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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 June 2006, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Liberal Policy
On Sunday 11 June 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Lib Dem Leader

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Lib Dem Leader

ANDREW MARR: Now, talking about one party leader who was in trouble to a party leader who's hoping that he's out of the woods.

Sir Ming Campbell took over as leader of the Liberal Democrats 100 days ago, and it hasn't been a great period, there's been disappointing local election results, a bit of sniping about his performance, particularly at Prime Ministers Questions.

And a series of policy announcements this week were designed to show that he's leading the party in new directions. But do these directions lead towards Downing Street. Sir Ming, welcome, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

MING CAMPBELL: Thank you very much.

ANDREW MARR: Would it be fair to say that the business of being a party leader is a little bit tougher than you thought it was going to be?

MING CAMPBELL: I don't think anything prepares you for being a party leader. Paddy Ashdown said that to me quite recently. No other experience in politics or outside really prepares you for the fact that you have this enormous amount of responsibility. And one doesn't just have to lead the party in the House of Commons.

You have to lead the party in the country. And I spent a lot of my time dealing with internal party issues, about diversity, the kind of campaigning we have, about the way in which we can speed up and make much more response of our policymaking processes. So these are all things, these are all parts of the iceberg below the surface, but that doesn't make them any less important.

ANDREW MARR: It can't have been great fun having Simon Hughes kind of putting you on probation, saying we'll check up again at party conference time?

MING CAMPBELL: Well, Simon and I had, as I think I've said, a robust exchange of views about that. I'm not putting any time limits on my leadership and I don't expect him to do so either.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to some of the policies that have been discussed in the course of the week, particularly tax. The idea is to take taxes down, income tax down, for most people. And that's going to cost something like 18 billion to 20 billion.

MING CAMPBELL: That's right. There's a very strong perception and I believe it's based on reality, that low income people and middle income people in this country do pay too much in tax. For example did you know the poorest 10% in Britain pay a higher proportion of their incomes in tax than the richest 10%. And that's why, although we, no doubt we'll come onto the 50p rate in a moment or two - that's why we've got proposals which if enacted would take two million people out of paying tax altogether who presently pay it.

We'd take another million pensioners out of paying tax. And that's why we also think that the basic rate can be taken down from 22 to 20 pence. Consequences, yes, there will have to be more environmental taxation, but that's in the interests of preserving the environment, saving the planet for our children and our grandchildren.

ANDREW MARR: Well I'd like to turn to the consequences actually, because if we say it's going to cost something like 18 billion - 20 billion, all those people who specialise in environmental taxes that I've been reading and listening to, say they're difficult to get a steady stream of revenue out because people change their behaviour.

MING CAMPBELL: ...you tax.... that's part of the purpose.

ANDREW MARR: But in terms of revenue you can't be sure what you're getting and it seems to be something like 8 billion wouldn't be a bad guess.

MING CAMPBELL: I'll accept that, I'll accept that.

ANDREW MARR: Which leaves therefore about 12 billion to be got out of what I think you've called seriously wealthy people. Now can we go through them. We're talking about second homes, the higher tax...

MING CAMPBELL: Can I just make one point, I'm not dodging the question. This is work in progress. We've got a tax commission which is sitting, it's going to produce its detailed proposals in July of this year, there will be worked-out examples.

So I'm not trying to dodge your question but I want you to understand that there's detail to come and of course in due course it will all go to our party conference where as in our party the conference is sovereign on policy, the party will decide whether these policies are to be accepted.

ANDREW MARR: I absolutely understand that. Nevertheless, you yourself and other party spokesmen have raised specifically the question of second homes...

MING CAMPBELL: ...second homes, yes..

ANDREW MARR: ...and people with a lot of shares. Let's start with second homes, what are your proposals?

MING CAMPBELL: At the moment we don't pay capital gains tax if we dispose of our primary home, our primary residence, as I think the Inland Revenue would describe it. But those people who have second homes have to pay capital gains tax if they dispose of them.

I see no reason why they shouldn't be asked to pay a bit more on that because we all know that the price of property, and the value of property in this country, has increased very, very significantly in recent years. So people who've made, if you like, a profit in that sense can quite reasonably in my view be invited to pay a little bit more.

ANDREW MARR: And to say that...

MING CAMPBELL: ...so that we can meet the social objectives I was talking about earlier, about taking the poorest people out of tax...

ANDREW MARR: ...absolutely, it is a straightforward redistribution.

MING CAMPBELL: It will be redistributed exactly. That's why these attacks on me for moving to the right really don't, I think they're based on people who take...

ANDREW MARR: Squeezing the pips, you're not a right winger.

MING CAMPBELL: So people take one sort of feature of the proposals out and they say this is right or this is right. You've got to look at the package as a whole.

ANDREW MARR: If you look at the numbers, and I don't know what you call seriously rich people. But I saw one estimate, there's probably about a quarter of a million of them in this country. The sums suggest therefore that you're going to have to take 40,000 to 50,000 off each of those people a year. That is a heck of a sting and it's going to cause quite a row.

MING CAMPBELL: The total's about 12 billion.

ANDREW MARR: Yes.

MING CAMPBELL: ...from those who've done best of all out of the economy. That plus the 8 billion on environmental taxes makes up the 20 billion that you referred to. But I don't think that's unreasonable because ...

ANDREW MARR: 40,000 to 50,000 extra in tax per person.

MING CAMPBELL: Well averages are always very, very deceptive. It won't necessarily be 40,000-50,000 in every case. Some may pay more, some may pay less. But I think it is perfectly reasonable to say that those who have benefited to the extent that many people have in this country should pay more because of these socially important objectives.

ANDREW MARR: And when it comes to the green taxes. I mean, I have to say, I think some people will be watching thinking 40,000-50,000 is an awful lot of money. But when it comes to green taxes which would be, as it were, for everybody, can we be clear that those people who have become used to taking a cheap flight to the south of France, or wherever it might be, will see the price of that air ticket go up quite dramatically?

MING CAMPBELL: Well no. I mean, I reject ... At the moment, as you know... we all pay tax on our airline tickets. What we argue is that the tax should not be on the individual passenger, because we're not trying to stop travel. What we're trying to do is stop emissions. And therefore the tax burden should be put on aircraft movements.

So that aircraft don't go half-full, so that aircraft which are freight aircraft, actually make a contribution. At the moment the individual passenger pays - we believe that the aircraft should be the ... trigger...

ANDREW MARR: It's the passenger paying for the tickets, the passenger's going to pay one way or another.

MING CAMPBELL: But there's a fair amount of competition and obviously, from the point of view of airlines they will be doing everything in their power that anything that has to be passed on is kept as low as possible.

But listen, behind that you've got to recognise that aviation is one of the fastest growing contributors to the problem of climate change. And that's why we've got to take action. I mean I'm very interested in some of these people who've been saying well you won't get this and you won't get that.

But I don't hear anyone offering any alternative if we're going to deal with the problems of the environment. I certainly don't hear Mr. Cameron or, in that respect I'm with Roy Hattersley, they say vote blue and go green. But tell us, how are we going to get there.

ANDREW MARR: Well I was wondering when we were going to get on to David Cameron because if you look at the polls the big picture would seem to be the Conservatives moving back towards the centre ground of politics. A lot of stuff on the environment and they, whether you like it or not, are squeezing the Liberal Democrat position pretty viciously and it's going to be very, very hard to resist that.

MING CAMPBELL: I don't like these adverts if I may say so. Look, did you see the survey that was published this week by one of the national newspapers pointing out what Tory members actually believed in? And all these buttons that Mr. Cameron is trying to press are precisely the opposite of what Tory members, the members of his own party, are actually supported on.

Now Mr Cameron has changed the nature of politics. The change of any leader of a political party brings about the change in the political landscape, let's accept that. But there is no doubt whatsoever that what this country needs, and for which I think there's a great deal of sympathy, is a values based party, taking its principles and its values, giving them a contemporary relevance.

What Mr. Cameron says is, let's take the issue of education. Mr. Blair produces an Education Bill and Mr. Cameron says we could manage your education policy better than you can. This country doesn't want more management parties, it wants parties based on values and principles and that's what I'm trying to provide.

ANDREW MARR: Ming Campbell, thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to be criticised for my use of adverbs.

INTERVIEW ENDS


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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