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Sunday, 25 March, 2001, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
25th March 2001

BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JOHN PRESCOTT MP, SIMON HUGHES MP and MICHAEL ANCRAM MP MARCH 25th, 2001

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

DAVID FROST:

Now in a moment we'll be talking as we promised, as we pledged, to our special panel of guests, the Deputy Prime Minister himself, John Prescott, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman and the runner up in the last leadership election, Simon Hughes and the Conservative Party Chairman himself too, Michael Ancram. What a dream team, what a dream team we have there, but first let's remind ourselves of some of the defining ups and downs since the last election.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST:

Some of the last four years main moments and now let's talk to Simon and to Michael Ancram and first of all John Prescott. John just a lightening question before coming on to the mega-issue of today, but the story in the papers today, Tube's future uncertain as Livingstone talks collapse, is that true?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well Ken's always talking like that, of course we're in negotiations about this but my main concern is to see that the London Underground gets the investment it's never had for 20, 20 years plus and if you did something for the Underground and for London, get that investment, that's the main key, we're negotiating with Ken and Mr Kiley they are continuing but Ken's a bit of a megaphone diplomacy from time to time

DAVID FROST:

As far as you're concerned the talks did not break down last night?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well no, we're waiting for a response from Mr Kiley who went away for three or four days over to the States at the beginning of the week, we're a bit surprised, then he came back with some new demands, we've yet to see what they are in detail, I believe he is to write a letter to me today, so watch this space. But at the end of the day London Underground is not going to face the same problem that it's faced for decades that government keep cutting back on their capital resources so that you have the most under-financed Underground in any part of the world.

DAVID FROST:

Come on to the, the headlines in all the papers today, John, the situation on foot and mouth, two weeks ago we heard Nick Brown say that things were under control and last week in fact Jim Scudamore was with us and he said it was contained and now the Chief Scientific Advisor says it's out of control, what's gone wrong over that period? Or was, did something go wrong in the initial reaction?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

No I think in the initial reaction it was quite seen that we knew where the, where the first infectation had taken place and that we followed it through and the travelling achievement, moving them about and we were reasonably satisfied that we knew where it was and how to deal with it but of course it began to transfer at a rate that nobody expected, everybody agreed with these various moves we've taken including the National Farmer's Union and then the scale of it just considerably grew, there's no doubt about it. If you look at the fact that we had something like 200 vets at that time to handle the problem, we now have a thousand, I mean that's the scale of the change that took place over this time and what we're doing is keeping up with it, keeping to control, trying to contain and to eradicate.

DAVID FROST:

Should we have considered ring vaccination sooner, should we have been more prepared so there wasn't such a, such a gap between diagnosis and rendering?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

I think all these parts play a part in the solution but at the end of the day we've taken the advice from the vets and the scientific advice, we've talked to the farmers about this and many of them have been divided about different decisions to be taken but governments have to make decisions and what we've been dealing with is something that grew quite considerably and I believe now we're dealing with it properly, getting the kind of equipment and resources that are necessary for it and it's bigger certainly than the last outbreak but I think that with the Prime Minister certainly in charge of it we're making the right decisions.

DAVID FROST:

And just taking for instance the County Elections for a moment, quite apart from General Election, can they still go ahead in this situation on May the 3rd or may they have to be postponed because of the seriousness of this situation and the prediction of up to 4,000?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well it's very rare that they would be cancelled, I mean even during the war-time when many of our forces were abroad the elections still took place, not during the war but the last part of it.

DAVID FROST:

The last part of the war, yes, with Japan, yeah?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

I mean that was quite considerable, a lot of people out of the country, but at the end of the day we don't have to make the decision at the moment, the Prime Minister will focus on that as he will on those decisions but at the moment he's concentrating his mind on dealing with this disease. At the end of the day there is divided opinion about whether the election should take place, some are saying you know you should and you shouldn't and I heard this morning from one of the Conservative spokesman, they say well just eliminate it now in say, in the, in Devon and up in Cumbria. So it seems to be a changing situation but at the end of the day the Prime Minister has to make a decision, not at the moment there's a few more days yet to make that decision.

DAVID FROST:

Eight days as he said?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Yes eight days because we are required to have some legislation if you make that change.

DAVID FROST:

Michael Ancram your response on foot and mouth and on the question of an election date:

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Well foot and mouth is obviously a very serious crisis and it isn't actually I think because we now see just affecting the countryside, I think people all round the country realise that there is a national crisis and that it is, it is out of control. And I think if we have any criticism of the government and we have been basically supporting what they've been doing it's that they haven't been doing it fast enough and we've seen a situation which has developed over the last two weeks, where we started having herds which could be dealt with effectively, then the numbers grew and we began to call, for instance, for the Army to be brought in to help with the disposal of carcasses. Two weeks later we have a couple of hundred soldiers deployed when much more is needed than that, we have 80,000 rotting carcasses in fields around the country, we were calling two weeks ago for slaughtering when the infection was first suspected by a vet rather than waiting for the laboratory tests to come through, that hasn't happened, we now have over 140,000 infected animals waiting to be slaughtered, we have a situation which could have been contained if the right action had been taken two weeks ago, it wasn't taken despite requests from people like myself and William Hague and Tim Yeo for the Army to be brought in, for vets to be able to slaughter on suspicion. The government has to accept that it hasn't handled this as well as it should, it's now got to get a grip on it and that brings me to the second point you make. How can you actually get a grip on a national crisis if you're in the middle of fighting elections, the two don't go together and the government has to consider very carefully at this moment and the Prime Minister in particular, how he can possibly have an election while this situation is still out of control. I'm not making predictions about the date because he doesn't have to call the election for another eight days and things can change but that must be the key thing, the national interest and not the political interest.

DAVID FROST:

What would be, what would be your option, what would be your choice, do you think that the County Council elections should go ahead in every where except Devon and Cumbria or do you think they should go ahead all over or do you think in fact the General Election should be called off if it was on for May the 3rd? MICHAEL ANCRAM:

The local elections are different from the General Election but the Prime Minister has the luxury of deciding whether he wants to have a General Election or not. But the local elections go ahead unless they're stopped and we were calling earlier this, this last week for powers to be taken to be able to postpone those elections in certain counties. Devon, for instance, a very good example where there's massive outbreak of foot, foot and mouth, I think it's something like 15 of the 60 wards in that County Council election have infected farms within them, as far as our party's concerned, eight of our candidates are farmers who wouldn't be able to campaign Cumbria is even worse in terms of the effect the foot and mouth's having there, even the local Tourist Board Chief is calling for the local elections to be postponed for those two counties?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

But those two counties are the worst affected and we've said the government should have taken powers to be able to say in those two counties you can postpone the local elections, we've had no response to that.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

But why have you called a by-election up in Cumbria then - with County Council election?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

What we've said

JOHN PRESCOTT:

You've done that?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

No what we have said is that you have to take enabling powers so that the government can actually postpone these elections if necessary. This is something I can say to John, I don't know where he's been the last two weeks, he's the Secretary of State for the Environment, we haven't had much from him about the regions and the countryside and all his responsibilities. But if he, like me, had been going round the country talking not just to farmers, talking to businesses, we're seeing their, their, their ability to survive being put at total risk, these are people who are not going to be interested in the niceties of politics, they want to see this crisis dealt with and they want to see it dealt with now.

DAVID FROST:

Right, now, Simon

JOHN PRESCOTT:

But why did you call the election?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Which election?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

The one in Cumbria?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

What we have said is that you have got to actually have the power to postpone these elections

JOHN PRESCOTT:

I know but why have you called it, you called it, you just called it a by-election?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

A by-election

JOHN PRESCOTT:

In Carlisle it's called a by-election for the County Council election for the Liberal seats as I understand it, he's decided he wants to call an election, on the one hand he's telling us straight don't have elections and he's calling them to take political advantage over the Liberals. It's hypocrisy.

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

No I have said I said right through this, the elections will go ahead, these local elections unless power is taken to stop them, that is, that is the position at the moment

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Yeah but you initiated them?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

John though the, the County Council elections are going ahead on the 3rd of May unless your government takes powers to stop them. We're just saying stop playing politics, stop thinking about expediency and begin to understand there is a real crisis out there in the country which is actually endangering people's livelihoods.

DAVID FROST:

Now, Simon thank you both and now deal with this and we'll throw it open to our audience.

SIMON HUGHES:

On the first issue clearly I don't represent a rural seat but I've been to several of the counties in recent weeks and months, the main issue appears to be the slowness of the early reaction. The issue now appears to be dealing with the dead animals which are in huge numbers and a risk and that must be the priority and the Army should have been brought in earlier, so I think out in the countryside in terms of the farming community that's now their concern. In terms of rural communities, they have a real financial concern and the knock-on effect on businesses, not just the tourist industry which as we all know is bigger than the agricultural industry in terms of its share of national wealth, but all the other industries as such, that you do have to look at a series of measures just to alleviate the pressure. It's things like rate relief, it's things like extra support and finance and there's a whole raft of things that it does need, firstly the attention of many government departments, there's not a single government department as you know. And secondly it does, wherever possible need an agreed view between the local county authorities, government and across the parties and we have so far tried, to be fair as many politicians and others have done, not to make party advantage out of trying to rescue people in dire circumstances. On the elections, there is clearly a strong case being put to politicians, particularly in certain parts of the country and Cumbria and Devon are the most obvious examples, for the County Elections to be postponed - there's clearly a strong case. You don't have to postpone them all, you could postpone them in certain counties, it would be logical to say that they should be postponed for more than a short time because you can't play around with the system, there's meant to be a four-year cycle and therefore my judgement is that if they were going to be postponed it's a matter of, at most two months' postponement, possibly only a month to June. Therefore the difficult question at the end of the day, today, it's John's department, he is in charge of local government matters, is whether you postpone either in total or in part from May until June or July, we're ready to have discussions again with the other parties and if the view on the ground is that it would be better in certain places for them to be postponed we will facilitate legislation going through Parliament to do that. It's not, it's not, it doesn't seem to me that it's right to say yes everywhere needs to be postponed and indeed in Devon where I was talking to one of my parliamentary colleagues John Burnett who makes the case that part of the county in Devon is really not affected in the same way and therefore it's not even a whole county issue.

DAVID FROST:

So well right, we'll turn to our audience, just one question John, if the County Council elections or some County Council elections were to be postponed is there, as Simon was indicating there, a two-month maximum on that postponement or could they be postponed until October?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

No I think if you're changing legislations it's up to Parliament to decide when those elections should take place, so there isn't a time limit, a time limit on it but I mean in those circumstances I think most people would be reluctant to go to a long period of postponement but it really depends what is happening and really what we're trying to concentrate on at the moment is to deal with the real problems in the farming communities at the moment, there isn't a time limit on it and the Prime Minister makes the decision basically about the general election and the, and the Council Elections have to be decided by Parliament on proposals we'll put forward to them in the elections.

DAVID FROST:

Well let's go to our audience here, number of people want, want to come in, lady here, lady here in the front, yes?

LADY 1:

First of all I'd like to talk about the London Underground.

DAVID FROST:

Well could we just, I remember that, we'll come back to that

LADY 1:

Okay.

DAVID FROST:

But I want to stay on this subject for one moment.

LADY 1:

About the foot and mouth.

DAVID FROST:

And ask

JOHN PRESCOTT:

You've got another question?

DAVID FROST:

You've got something on that as well?

LADY 1:

With regard to the foot and mouth crisis, I mean I remember when the Tories were in with the BSE crisis it was far worse than what it is now, the government hasn't handled it 110 per cent like they should do, I mean help should be more quicker more quicker, instead of people shuffling papers around government departments they want to get on their mobile phones into these cars and get in touch with these people, the government, otherwise it could well cost them the election, I mean why on earth when the Tories were in didn't they publish the report into standards in abattoirs, what are they so frightened of? What did they want to conceal I wonder? I mean at the end of the day why don't they ban the feed? It's obviously in the feed, why don't they ban the dodgy feed and severely prosecute people who go against this legislation.

DAVID FROST:

Thank you, thank you very much indeed, spoken like a Sun editorial that was, dodgy and all that, great stuff, great stuff - Michael Ancram?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Well I think that the point was made that the government has not reacted fast enough, I, just take my constituency, I've had a number of very serious outbreaks in my constituency, I'm ten miles away from Salisbury Plain, Salisbury Plain at the moment is not being used for exercises because of foot and mouth, there are soldiers who are sitting doing nothing, they have equipment with which they can bury animals, they have equipment with which they can dig trenches, they have decontamination equipment, they have not yet been brought in and yet in my constituency there are dead animals lying in the field decomposing, there are animals that require to be slaughtered can't be slaughtered because there aren't at the moment enough vets.

DAVID FROST:

They've called up - they've called up the Territorials in Hampshire just, just this week in fact?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

But why not the Army with all its equipment, why don't we use this and agree that it's a national crisis and there may be political reasons why the government doesn't want to bring the Army in, we've been calling for this for two weeks and there are rotting animals in fields which are infect carrying infection themselves because no action's been taken.

DAVID FROST:

Let me put a question to the audience here on a vote - how many people think that on the one hand that the May the 3rd should go ahead, Local and General Election should go ahead on May the 3rd and how many people think they should be postponed or cancelled - how many people are in favour of getting the elections over, of having the elections on May the 3rd come what may? So there we have as you can probably see at home, about a third or quarter of the audience, a gentleman in the front here, why do you think that? The gentleman there?

MAN 1:

I think we should just get on with it and get it over with otherwise it'll just drag on for such a long time.

DAVID FROST:

And how many people here think that in fact there should be a situation where there is a postponement of one or both? How many people? About twice as many I would say, about, not, so not hugely different, gentleman there, in the second row there with the, with the, third row in fact with the magnificent sweater?

MAN 2:

One of the County Council candidates luckily in an area which has not been affected yet and I think as far as the election date is concerned it really should be decided at, at a local level so legislation should be changed to, to make that flexibility.

DAVID FROST:

Who over here had their hand up, yes the lady there in the second row?

LADY 2:

I think the crisis with the foot and mouth should be dealt with now as the Conservative Chairman says because of, if all the energy is spent on dealing with that could be dealt with, the farmers need a lot of support and then the General Election could be called in due course.

DAVID FROST:

Thank you very much indeed

SIMON HUGHES:

Can I just add one word it's interesting we're here on the edge of London, I'm a London MP, I was out on the streets yesterday in my constituency

DAVID FROST:

Do you feel on the edge of London or in London?

(AUDIENCE NOISE)

SIMON HUGHES:

I was not trying to be controversial. In wonderful Enfield is what I meant to say, I'm sorry. But yesterday I was very impressed by the amount of sympathy and understanding by people who live in urban Britain for the plight of the countryside and I actually think there's a very similar view where the people in urban areas like London or in the County areas saying that we mustn't put the political decisions, the party political decisions whether at local or national level above the national interest. And John's right, it's the Prime Minister's decision about the General Election but at the end of the day if the Prime Minister goes ahead and holds an election when there is, if there is an overwhelming view against it he will have to take personal responsibility for that and the Labour Party will have to take personal responsibility for that and that's the issue, difficult, very difficult, it's a difficult judgement John, I understand.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

I agree with that but don't forget it's not just about political consideration if you feel that's the way, against getting on with the job, the first thing we agree the job is the priority, dealing with the crisis is the priority, that's no doubt, we have to be united about that dealing with it. Do bear in mind the other thing that the Prime Minister has to take into account if he signals to the rest of the world we've cancelled the elections, that rural economies, tourist economies, all those extra pressures are upon us that's why even the editorials in the paper are divided about it, that's why there are real genuine differences but at the end of the day a Prime Minister has to make a judgement, but it's not solely about foot and mouth and party considerations and general election, there are real economic problems and signals to the rest of the world whether it's completely broken down I don't think for a second that is, that is so, talk nationally, already we're talking now there's only two counties really affected from an election point of view, that's a consideration

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

At the moment, at the moment.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Yes I agree at the moment, but you make my point, you have to see how this develops and we have to give the first top priority to dealing with the problem for the farmers, the farming community but at the same time we have to balance it against Britain's interests, whether cancelling elections makes a difference, that's one heck of a signal and an awful lot of people saying to us don't give that signal, it is manageable, it isn't a breakdown of democracy, we can deal with this. But the man who has to make the decision is the Prime Minister and at the end of the day he will be accountable.

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Then why don't you take the power to postpone in case you need it, at the moment the County Council elections are going to go ahead, they're going to be actually announced tomorrow, the process is beginning tomorrow, we have not got at the moment the power to postpone them. We've said take that power, whether you use it or not may depend on the circumstances, but take that power, we'll help you get a bill through Parliament if that Bill's come forward, why after five days have we had no response to that?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well I mean we can still make, well we want to see exactly what is happening, it has been fast-moving on foot and mouth, I mean everybody's agreed, nobody envisaged when this started in the first week it would scale to this, there's no doubt about that, even the scientists didn't even advocate that. We have a real problem, we need to watch how it's developing, already some signs of progress been coming in, Prime Minister's quite right, if he's got to balance these decisions to take most information and the best timetable and that's what we're doing. And Michael, you know it's alright you saying that, but why do you call your by-election in Carlisle, you come on here, you come on here and tells us its got to be an election and then you, Chairman of the Party call a by-election in the very area that's most affected it's hypocrisy Michael.

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Because I keep on saying we haven't got the power to actually cancel these local elections at the moment - I'm asking you to take that

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Let me just deal with this point

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

take that power.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

It's a Liberal seat and they were going to wait for the elections, they delayed it, you decided to take political advantage and run it, it's an agent of one of your Tory MPs, it was clearly one of your decisions, it's just hypocrisy.

DAVID FROST:

Right

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

You give us the power to postpone

DAVID FROST:

There's a question here from a viewer and in South Woodford, London, reading about the number of asylum seekers that disappear to places in this country I was wondering if it had any connection with the disease spreading - well I thought even the Conservatives wouldn't accuse the asylum seekers of that, would you?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

No certainly, certainly not and I mean I think this actually does raise another very, very interesting and important problem, there have been mixed messages about access to the countryside, we were told two weeks ago that people shouldn't go to the countryside so that sort of idea that people carry it from towns into the countryside began to grow. Now we're being told that everybody, everybody should go into the countryside, that's also equally dangerous because within the countryside there have to be very careful rules as to where you can go. What we want is clear decisions and clear guidance from government. John Prescott is the Secretary of State for the Environment, we've been waiting for two weeks to hear from him on this subject, he, this is the first time I've heard him talking about foot and mouth, it's about time he got a grip, it's about time his department got a grip.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well if you'd been down in Gloucester with me talking to the farmers you could have heard my view but leaving that aside

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Are you sure, are you sure

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Demonstrators outside about Prescott

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Are you sure it was Gloucester because when

JOHN PRESCOTT:

But can I say

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Michael Meacher went to Taunton he thought he was in Devon.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Can I, can I just say there's a reasonably fair point of criticism here, when we actually began and we thought that it was contained, we thought the size of the problem, we were advised by the scientists and we said please keep out of the countryside, that was a reaction in those circumstances. When it began to grow in the way that it is, has there's been a phenomenal growth, people began to say look let us isolate the affected areas, that's what you're doing in the elections isn't it, you're saying it's only Cumbria and Devon so we'll isolate it. So we began to say, look it's going to destroy an awful lot of the rural communities so let us be selective about it, please go to a Trust House area, for example where these Trust homes etc, you can visit, where there is no incidence of it, so we are trying to get a proper balance bearing in mind the growing scale of the foot and mouth. Now that's reacting to events, I think that's proper and we do say to people now, go to those areas but don't go near the farms or near livestock and you can still enjoy the countryside, now I think that's a fair balanced point and it reflects the growing concern of people in communities who are totally cut off from their economic means solely because we've said there's a blanket approach to the countryside

DAVID FROST:

Right at that particular point, a very quick point?

SIMON HUGHES:

Can I make a quick point. First I think that's absolutely right, be selective, there are many parts of rural Britain where local advice is as perfectly proper to go and visit and I think we must be very careful we don't undermine our rural communities. But the other point is, John makes, we have to be careful we don't send a signal Britain closed, democracy postponed, I agree with that but a clear decision and a clear announcement for example that on best advice elections could be in June rather than May wouldn't do that, it would show a decisive position I think you can postpone if the government got that advice, it doesn't have the indefinite but we need some clarity and we need some clarity soon for everybody's sake.

DAVID FROST:

Right now that particular point we turn, we turn now to the subject that will be of concern, I mean those are the hot subjects of the day, thank you for what you all had to say on those, but now when this time for election comes along two of the key subjects of all obviously going to be health or education, who in our audience here would like to put a question on either of those subjects, health or education? The lady there, yes?

LADY 3:

Yeah I'm a nurse in the Middlesex Hospital and presently am very concerned about the standards on the ward, there doesn't appear to be enough qualified nurses to manage and care for the patients properly which is, which is dreadful because I think health is very important and it's causing low morale on the wards and what, what are the government generally going to do about this, how are they going to tackle the problem?

DAVID FROST:

Simon you're a Londoner as we said earlier on, what's your comment on the state of the NHS in London before we put it to

SIMON HUGHES:

The nurse puts exactly the right point, it's not just in the Middlesex, the Health Service is under huge pressure, the answer to the question, what could be done? We've seen surprisingly, I say surprisingly, the last four years of Labour government have had less share of our national wealth going on the Health Service then the previous five years of the Tory government, extraordinary figure, difficult to believe but independently this week shown to be true. That makes the case that we need significant extra investments and the only things you can do put the money in for the nurses, we say we need about 11,000 extra nurses and midwives, for the doctors and we say we need several thousand extra doctors, and for the beds because without the beds the waiting list goes on

DAVID FROST:

But how many more billion than the billions that are about to go in would you want spent?

SIMON HUGHES:

The answer is we'd take it out of the two and a half billion or just over that comes from the one proposal we have for raising tax for those who no, no, no, it's absolutely not John and I will take you on on each of these, we say that those who earn over £100,000 should pay 50 per cent rather than 40 per cent and that that money should go into helping the Health Service get off its knees, I don't think that's unreasonable and I think it's surprising that the Labour Party's unwilling to ask very highly paid people to pay a bit more to the national kitty to deal with the public services.

DAVID FROST:

Well you're glad they're not doing that Michael, presumably you wouldn't want, you wouldn't want an increase in the rate of tax?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

No what we've said is we are going to match what the Chancellor has said he is going to increase the Health Service spending by¿but we're going to spend it in different ways. There are two key areas as far as we're concerned in relation to nurses. The first is to stop the nurses being paper pushers, there's too much administrative work being done by nurses which should be done by other people and nurses should be allowed to nurse, so we're going to work very strictly to try and reduce the amount of literally red tape that surrounds nursing at the moment. The second is to try and increase the, the value that the public puts on the nursing profession and that isn't just a question of pay, pay is obviously a part of that, but it's also the way in which the nursing within hospitals is structure, we want to go back to finding a proper structure, not necessarily matrons themselves, but having a proper structure of nursing within hospitals so that nurses themselves feel they're valued again and I think that that will help with recruitment to the nursing services. But in terms of money, we will, we will use what the Chancellor has announced over the next three years, he's going to put into the Health Service but we say we'll use it more effectively.

SIMON HUGHES:

But if you're going to cut taxes Michael which nobody understands, how do you cut taxes and increase money in the public services?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Because what we're, what we're saying very simply is the Labour Party have said they're going to increase spending overall by £68 billion pounds we're going to increase it by £60 million pounds that's not a cut but there are savings made

DAVID FROST:

A smaller, a smaller increase. A gentleman there wants to come in, yes sir?

MAN 2:

The politicians are extremely good at raising taxes, it's dead easy, putting more money in, the Chancellor has already raised a huge amount of taxes and what does he do with it, he spends, I think that he said that he paid the national debt back to the tune of £50 billion. Well part of the reason I think he did that is because you cannot simply throw money at the National Health, you've got to get the doctors trained and the nurses trained, that takes time. The politicians should just come clean and tell the nation that we cannot do this in a, in an undefined time scale and tell the country how long it will take us to get the thing up to standard and give some measurements that we can see, that yes progress has been made.

DAVID FROST:

Alright thank you for that point, let's take a point here two, the gentleman in the back?

MAN 3:

The way the government have been treating the nurses and the doctors and the teachers over the last four years is absolutely disgraceful, they've held their pay right back, their standard of living has fallen in relative terms and as a result of that we're short of nurses and doctors and teachers and they're trying to compensate for this by scurrying round the third world bringing people to this country and taking nurses and doctors and teachers from countries that very badly need them.

DAVID FROST:

Thank you, and the lady there?

LADY 5:

All your politicians have got their economics wrong on this, if we weren't giving £30 billion, million a day to Europe we'd have enough money for better schools, better hospitals and a lot more money and in the case of foot and mouth Nick Brown wouldn't be phoning Brussels for his instructions all the time.

DAVID FROST:

Well I think he probably phones Number Ten as well I would think, probably, but anyway thank you for that point, those three, those three points about health and the points that were made, over to you John?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

I would say on foot and mouth it doesn't recognise national boundaries as we've seen in this last example, but leaving that point aside, the question that was fired about the Health Service and of course let us say there are a number of things for that. On resource argument and I'd certainly dispute with Simon about whether proportion of the national income is less or more, what I will concede to him is in the first in the first two years it was less, why was that? Because we made a fundamental decision about the economy, we said that we had too many people in unemployment, we were paying too much out in those kind of benefits, that we were paying too much in interest payments to bankers. So we reduced the national debt as it said over £50-odd billion, and what did that mean? It meant it released well over £4 billion that we transferred from paying people on the dole because we put a million people back to work and we actually put it into health and education, that was one of our first moves, though at the end it wasn't enough, what we did then was to get a stable economy which has given us now a scale of over £20-odd billion to go into the Health Service. But first of all that is not just a money problem, how do you train nurses, doctors etc, we have brought in frankly that something like 12,000 nurses, or if you take full-time equivalent 7,000, we have increased the teachers as well, that means you have money that comes from a stable economy where we get economic stability, we put the money into public services. But we have inherited the charge, which Simon rightly says, in some cases since we kept the first two years of the Tories' expenditure, we said that at the election, it has meant that we're shown to have less, that is not the case now with a massive amount of resources now going into the public services that come from a public stability, a stability in our economy with a million more people back at work paying taxes instead of the dole, that was an essential change. Secondly we've taken the pressure off the hospitals by bringing in NHS Direct, walking into some of these facilities as I did in London quite recently, which takes the pressure off, pressure off the Accident and Emergencies and at the same time giving the resources and training more. What we've done, it is a long term and all we say, a lot done, a lot more to do and a lot to lose if you let these people in.

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

Can I just ask John a question, if all that's right why is there a survey today in one of the papers showing that GPs think the Health Service has got worse under Labour over the last four years?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

I think like some of the GP and some of the nurses they have to live with the circumstances they have at the moment and they say, well look it's not good enough, it's not changed

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

it's got worse?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well, well let me, okay I mean, but let me just say that they say it's worse, it's not very good because they felt in the first two years the changes would come, we said in the first two years strong economy, it was in there, you know, get me old card out, you know a strong economy, reduce the waiting list, all these have been achieved but we have to get the economy right. The boom and bust from this outfit just gives you more unemployment, higher interest charges, higher inflation and we've got a strong economy now to make the investment in our public service, that alone with a million more people back at work is sufficient for us to say to the people we've delivered on our promises and you should vote for us.

DAVID FROST:

But everyone says, don't, only three of those five are working

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well it's absolutely rubbish, I'll go through the five if you want, I mean it's just not true

DAVID FROST:

Well let me have a look, there's one where there's a qualification, Fast Track on Crime, Fast-track for you from on crime - nothing?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Five years? No it's not nothing David , no wait, wait, just pick one, let's get it right, we said that we'd reduce the time taken from an offence being committed into the court, from 140-odd days down to 70, we've now got it down to 90, in some counties we're near to the 70, we said it was a five-year programme, in fact in four years we're almost there but in all the others achieved, education, health, jobs work there.

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

David, John can't get away with that.

DAVID FROST:

No, no, no actually actually John there's one thing I've got to say to you, when this, clever bit of wording, but when this card came out everybody said these were early pledges? We all thought, we all thought they were going to be fulfilled early, it turns out they were only printed early?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

No, no, no, David, it wasn't said ??? It was.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

It wasn't said, it wasn't said in the manifesto, there may have been statements issued early early but I've already told you the reason was the first one was to get a strong economy and if anybody believed you had to reduce the debt-ridden economy from what we inherited and putting it into a major change, that takes two years, you've got to say.

SIMON HUGHES:

But John, John, we haven't got much time but the gentleman there's completely right, unless you now invest in the public services

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Which we will do

SIMON HUGHES:

We will have no teaching profession, nursing profession, medical profession and the other point is, very simple promise, more bobbies on the beat, there are 1600 less bobbies now, now, they went down for three and a half years, I think the

JOHN PRESCOTT:

They went down seven years went down.

SIMON HUGHES:

Yeah and they went down the government before, I think the truth of the matter, you know from your political background that it's been a very disappointing performance

JOHN PRESCOTT:

You are right

SIMON HUGHES:

public services.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

You are right on the police

SIMON HUGHES:

And people expected them to be delivered in one Parliament John.

DAVID FROST:

As we come towards

SIMON HUGHES:

The elections coming

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well a Parliament's five years.

SIMON HUGHES:

Well is it, is it?

DAVID FROST:

John Prescott has just announced the date of the election May 2002. Great relief the election, let me ask you this question which comes from Carol Ramsden, one of our viewers who says, Hi my name is Carol Ramsden I come from Brighton and her question is what do they think, the politicians, and I want to ask you first, what do you think will be the one issue that will decide more than any other the next general election, what do you all think in, in, in a briefest sentence, the gentleman in the front?

MAN 4:

Well I feel quite passionately about the Euro and I think it will be a deciding factor but I feel very disappointed that this Labour government has failed to listen to the people and support the retaining of the pound. Mr Hague has been very good in

DAVID FROST:

Okay I'm going to take because I want to get one or two more just one sentence, you sir, what do you think will be the deciding issue for you?

MAN 5:

The party with less verbal diarrhoea.

DAVID FROST:

Pardon?

MAN 5:

The party with less verbal diarrhoea.

DAVID FROST:

Diarrhoea, I see, yes, the air is full of speeches and vice-a-versa.

DAVID FROST:

The, the gentleman there, yes?

MAN 6:

Mainly law and order in terms of the urban communities, both of you chappies have been to Peckham, I live in Peckham where we're all suffering from the consequences Damilola Taylor's death, both of you have gone to a badly housing estate, I've lived there and I've seen it, none of you guys are really going to take that challenge on.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

We've changed it, you know that.

MAN 6:

You've changed it but what I'm saying is the experience to having to live that kind of experience 24x7 where I'm still doing now, a lot of my folk sort of saying what is happening with law enforcement, are we going to get those people on the beat to get the stringent change that we need, that people feel safe on the streets, that's of more interest to me than say, the Euro.

DAVID FROST:

Right, well we'll take a quick news update there and then we'll come back and get our three panellists here to answer that question, you've given those very clear answers, we'll see what their answers are in just a moment.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST:

So what is the one issue that will decide the next election, Simon?

SIMON HUGHES:

Who the public believe when they talk about public services and the investment and who believes that if you are going to have public services somebody has to pay for them, it's honesty which will decide in each constituency and nationally, who is honest about paying for what you get.

DAVID FROST:

And in a word from Michael?

MICHAEL ANCRAM:

After four years of big promises and no deliveries it's going to be the party who puts forward credible commonsense policies where people can see they can be delivered.

DAVID FROST:

Thank you very much, John?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well delivery, if you show you deliver, you will judge us on delivery and you will judge us on what we promised to do and if that's the, that will be the issue and I think what we all can agree, it's Mother's Day, so let's all say happy Mother's Day to my mother.

DAVID FROST:

Very, very good, he's gone out on a limb there on, in favour of Mother's Day. That's it from everybody this week here, thank you to all of our guests, thank you to our audience, to those of you at home who sent questions. Top of the morning, good morning.

END

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