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The Paxman interviews: Howard
On Friday 22 April, Jeremy Paxman interviewed leader of the Conservatives, Michael Howard. Below is a transcript of the programme.


Jeremy Paxman interviews Michael Howard

This transcript was supplied by an external organisation. The BBC is not responsible for its content.

PAXMAN: Good evening. In the third of our interviews with the leaders of the big three parties in British politics, tonight we're talking here in London Docklands to Michael Howard of the Conservatives. The Tories have been out of power since they went down to that crashing defeat eight years ago. Are we going to be willing to bring them back on May 5th. Now, Michael Howard, why would anybody want to bring you back in to government.

HOWARD: Because we will take action on the things which matter to the country and the things which matter to people, and that's why we've been spelling out our plans to bring to this country school discipline, clean hospitals, more police, controlled immigration, lower taxes; the things that people really do care about and the things that are important for the country's future and unlike Mr Blair who talks a lot but does very little, we will carry out the promises we make.

PAXMAN: But we know what you're like in government. You were the man who brought us the Poll Tax, you were part of the Cabinet that presided over that embarrassing fiasco with the ERM.

HOWARD: Urm. Well let's, let's talk about those things. The ERM was indeed a terrible mistake. When we went in to the ERM, we were supported by the Labour Party, the Liberals, the TUC, the CBI, and we are the only party that's learned our lesson ..

PAXMAN: It's about judgement Mr Howard.

HOWARD: No, no - just let me finish. Indeed it is, it is about judgement. We are the only party that's learned our lesson from that. We're the only party that isn't going to take the country in to the Euro which ...

PAXMAN: All right ...

HOWARD: Is the ERM writ large with no exit signs.

PAXMAN: We all know what Blairism is, we knew what Thatcherism was. What is Howardism.

HOWARD: Howardism, if, if you want to use that word is a, a practical programme for dealing with the challenges facing this country. For changing the direction of the country and for putting in place things which really matter to ordinary people in their lives. That's why for example, we're talking today about crime, crimes gone up, crimes out of control. People need a government that's going to get a grip on the problems facing the country, and we're spelling out exactly how we're going to do that.

PAXMAN: No one denies of course we need a government that would get a grip on the country's problems. But as you've already conceded, it is a matter of judgement and you've been wrong on so many issues haven't you.

HOWARD: Well I've been ur, I've been right on very many issues I - I mean let's talk about it.

PAXMAN: Let's

HOWARD: If you, you want to talk about the past I'm very happy to do so.

PAXMAN: Well I mean, let's look at

HOWARD: When I was Home Secretary, crime fell by 18%. It hadn't happened before, ever, it hasn't happened since; so I've proved that I can get a job done and that's what we will do. That's one of the ways in which we'll be different. We ...

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PAXMAN: (overlaps) You opposed the national minimum wages. You said it would cost two million jobs. It hasn't has it.

HOWARD: Well hang on. We, we won't just talk about things We won't start things and not finish them. We won't pussy foot about, we'll actually do the things we're promising.

PAXMAN: You opposed the extension of paid maternity leave, from six weeks to fourteen weeks. You said it would cost many many women's jobs, it hasn't. You see that's just examples.

HOWARD: And we've learned lessons.

PAXMAN: To say nothing of the Poll Tax. To say nothing of the ERM.

HOWARD: Well I, we've talked about the ERM. We're the only party to have learned our lesson from that. We'll talk - I'll tell you about the Poll Tax if you like.

PAXMAN: What did Major get wrong, apart from the ERM.

HOWARD: The ERM was was the biggest mistake that government made and we were in government, although everybody else supported that decision, you're, you're, you're right to say, we were in government, we have to accept the responsibility for that and ...

PAXMAN: (overlaps) But apart from the ERM (BOTH TOGETHER)

HOWARD: We do.

PAXMAN: The Major government basically was right was it.

HOWARD: I, I think we did, we did a lot of very good things.

PAXMAN: So if we vote for you, we get what, Major Part Two.

HOWARD: No, if you vote for the Conservatives at this election, you'll get a government that will take action on the challenges that face the country and on the things that really matter to people and I'll give you one example - crime. Let me give you another example - clean hospitals. Five thousand people a year die in our country from hospital acquired infections - as many people as die on Britain's roads. We have an action plan, which will deal with that problem, which would bring it under control. There's no reason why in this country of ours, we should have that problem worse than it is in almost any other country in Europe.

PAXMAN: What proportion of the National Income, do you think should be taken up with government spending.

HOWARD: We've said that by 2011, government spending will be 40% of national income. Labour, under Labour it will be 42% of national income

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PAXMAN: You see that's another area in which you've changed isn't it.

HOWARD: We've, we've - yes, it is. Yes I have, I have

PAXMAN: (overlaps) You used to say 35% didn't you.

HOWARD: Yes I have changed my mind. I think it's important to learn lessons as life goes on and to look at things again, and I, and that's right. I have changed

BOTH TOGETHER PAXMAN: So if you've been wrong on all these things in the past, we don't have slightest guarantee you'll be right on anything in the future.

HOWARD: My mind about that. Well you, you know we can, we can talk about the past, you can - about the time that ur, that, that I brought in the Poll Tax, Tony Blair was a member of CND, he was opposing all the reforms to the trade unions that we brought in. He was describing our plans to give trade union members the right to vote for their leaders as scandalous. So we can argue about the past to your heart's content. I think most people watching this programme are interested in our plans for the future of our country.

PAXMAN: Absolutely. Well let's look at tax then.

HOWARD: Very good.

PAXMAN: Are you going to cut taxes.

HOWARD: Yes. We're going to cut taxes by four billion pounds in our first budget.

PAXMAN: That's a guarantee is it.

HOWARD: That's a guarantee.

PAXMAN: You are guaranteeing four billion pounds worth.

HOWARD: We are guaranteeing four billion pounds.

PAXMAN: Although, overall, on your watch, taxes would go up.

HOWARD: Well it depends whether you're talking about tax rates or the tax burden. Both the ..

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PAXMAN: The burden of tax will go up by what, about twenty billion pounds.

HOWARD: Well it will be lower under the Conservatives than it will be under Labour

PAXMAN: (overlaps) Yeah, but it will go up.

HOWARD: Yes. Yes. Because that's what happens The three, that question shows Jeremy, let me deal with this, it's very important. That question shows that you understand three things about what a Conservative government would bring about. First of all, we'll bring about a growing economy, because the tax burden goes up under a growing economy

PAXMAN: It shows - we understand that you will

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HOWARD: It shows, it shows that we un -

PAXMAN: Increase taxes.

HOWARD: - it shows that we PAXMAN: That's all.

HOWARD: .. no, no, no. We, you (fluffs), we're going to cut taxes. The tax burden goes up when a, when an economy grows.

PAXMAN: Right you - you talk about sixty sixty is it. Sixty six Labour stealth tax

HOWARD: Sixty six tax rises.

PAXMAN: And you're going to remove all of those are you.

HOWARD: No. We're going to cut taxes

PAXMAN: Right.

HOWARD: By four billion pounds in our first budget. I wish that we could undo all the damage which Labour have done in the last eight years at one fell swoop; we can't do that. We can - we are only making promises we know we can keep. That's why we will cut taxes by four billion pounds in our first budget.

PAXMAN: Will you guarantee to reverse the rise in National Insurance contributions.

HOWARD: No. I, I'm not making any promises that I can't keep. There are lots of things I'd like to do, lots of things I'd love to do

PAXMAN: Yeah.

HOWARD: but

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PAXMAN: In fact you could increase National Insurance contributions couldn't you.

HOWARD: What we can do - well, let me deal with that. I'm, I can tell you, as I just have done, with certainty what we're going to do in our first budget, and we're going to cut taxes by four billion pounds in our first budget. Labour, by contrast, all the independent commentators say, will have to increase taxes by ten or eleven billion pounds. But if you're asking me what I'm - I'll be able to do three or four years out, then in truth, although we've spelled out our plans, although our plans certainly don't need us to increase taxes at all, I can't foresee exactly what the position is going to be in three or four years time. I, I - there may be unforeseen events.

PAXMAN: (overlaps) So you might raise National Insurance.

HOWARD: Well, our plans don't require us to do that. But I can't sit here today

PAXMAN: That is exactly what Blair said before the last election.

HOWARD: And they increased National Insurance one year later.

PAXMAN: Precisely.

HOWARD: We, they weren't talking about three or four years on. Now, I'm telling you what we're going to do in our first budget

PAXMAN: So, three or four years out you might raise it.

HOWARD: we're going to cut - I can't tell you what the position is going to be three or four years - you, you may have foresight. You may be able to predict

PAXMAN: No, I'm not

HOWARD: Jeremy with great precision, what's going to happen in three or four years time. Now let me explain. We've spelled out our plans, we've set out our spending plans for the next six years. If no unforeseen events occur, we will be able to deliver that spending without increasing taxes. But I can't put my hand on my heart and say that I can predict exactly what's going to happen over the next three or four years and if some extraordinary, unforeseen event occurs, then I can't say what we would have to do as a responsible government, to deal with that. But I'm making a very firm promise, which we will keep about what we'll do in our first budget. We'll cut taxes by four billion pounds, Labour will increase taxes by ten or eleven billion pounds, they'll have to; that's the clear choice facing the country at this election.

PAXMAN: What are the current services provided by the state that you think the state shouldn't provide.

HOWARD: Well, there are things which the state does at the moment, which we think it doesn't do well, and which we think we can do better in a different way. Now there are

PAXMAN: So what should be taken out of the state.

HOWARD: Right. Well we're going to - as you know, we're going to abolish things like the Regional Health Authorities. We don't think they add anything, we don't think they, they bring any money to the front line; so we will save a very substantial amount of money by cutting out the Regional Health Authorities. We'll scrap the Regional Assemblies; we think they are a completely unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. We'll scrap the New Deal, that's a tough decision, that's something which we think is not working well. We think there are better ways of getting people back in to work than the new deal, so we're going to scrap that. We're going to scrap the Small Business Services - most people I meet who run small businesses, have never heard of the Small Business Service, they don't think it's helping them much. So those are example of things we are going to scrap in order to give tax payers value for money. Some of them are quite tough choices, but government is about tough choices. But not just about talking about tough choices, it's about making tough choices, that's what we'll do.

PAXMAN: (overlap) Let's look, let's look at the Health Service. You seek a greater role for the private sector in the Health Service. Correct.

HOWARD: Well we think that, we think two things about the Health Service. We, we think first, first of all we think that everybody should have more choice. That means that any NHS patient should have the choice of going to any NHS hospital. Secondly, we think that if the private sector can provide health care, at the same cost as the NHS, then it(?) should have the right to supply those services, and patients should have the right to go to the private sector for those services, and thirdly, we think that ur, people have paid their taxes, they've paid for the cost of their NHS treatment. If they choose to go private, the NHS should pay half of what it would have cost the NHS to pay for those operations, er, towards the cost of their treatment in the private sector.

PAXMAN: (overlaps) Right. And that latter proposals takes 1.2 billion pounds, out of the Health Service and straight in to the private sector.

HOWARD: Well these are people who've paid their taxes.

PAXMAN: (overlaps) Yes or no. It does doesn't it ..

HOWARD: Yes, well, it

PAXMAN: (overlaps) yes it does.

HOWARD: it takes ..

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PAXMAN: 1.2 billion straight out of the National - the publicly funded National Health Service, and put in to the private sector

HOWARD: it's being spent on. It's being spent on people's healthcare This present government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds in the private sector. I believe

PAXMAN: But the short answer to the question is, yes it is.

HOWARD: yes, yes, I believe that if people have paid their taxes, have paid towards the cost of their NHS treatment, but find for whatever reason that they have to, or want to go private it's right

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PAXMAN: They should be subsidized by the state to do so.

HOWARD: and fair, it's right and fair for the NHS to pay a cost. Look, these people could have cluttered up the NHS waiting list. That would have added to the NHS waiting list. If they choose to go private, for half the cost to the NHS, they're allowing someone else to come up the waiting list to get their operation sooner. They're saving the NHS money because the NHS is only contributing half of what

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PAXMAN: If you're rich enough to have private health insurance, you propose that the state should then make it easier for you to go privately.

HOWARD: It would have cost the NHS. Two hundred.

PAXMAN: Correct. HOWARD: Two hundred and twenty

PAXMAN: Correct or not.

HOWARD: Yeah, but let me, let me explain something to you.

PAXMAN: Thank you.

HOWARD: Two hundred and twenty thousand people last year, without any health insurance, people who were not by any stretch of the imagination rich, people who in many cases had to borrow, which they could ill afford to do, to pay for their operation, went in to the private sector. They've paid their taxes, they've paid towards the cost of NHS treatment. I think they deserve a better deal.

PAXMAN: That's Howardism isn't it.

HOWARD: Well you can call it what you like. I think it's fair play. I think it's common sense, and I think it's fair play. These people have all paid their taxes. They've paid towards the NHS. I think it's right that if they shorten the waiting lists on the NHS, if they enable the NHS to treat someone else, it's right that the NHS should pay a proportion of what it would have cost the NHS to treat them.

PAXMAN: (overlaps) Well by that principle the state should pay parents who want to send their children to private schools.

HOWARD: I met, I met someone Well we, only if the private school can, can, can provide the education at the same cost as the state sector can.

PAXMAN: Well any, anything else you want to privatise.

HOWARD: Well, neither of those things are privatisation. These are

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PAXMAN: Taking money straight out of the public sector in to the private sector.

HOWARD: These are, these are, these are things which will give people in this country a better deal. They involve fair play for people who've paid their taxes, who've paid for the cost of their NHS operations. Who've paid for the cost of their education. For heavens sake

PAXMAN: (overlap) Who happen to be able to afford private insurance.

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HOWARD: If a private, if a private, if a private - no, many of them can't afford private insurance. I'm, I was with someone in Bolton a couple of days ago, who'd had to pay, borrow eight thousand pounds to get an operation which he couldn't get on the Health Service. He could, he was not rich by any stretch of the imagination. That's the sort of thing that is happening today, and for heavens sake, if the private sector can come up with education at the same level as, as the state sector, why shouldn't someone be able to choose that private, a private sector school.

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PAXMAN: Apart from the health, the health sector and now education, any other areas you think that should be a greater role for the private sector in(?)

HOWARD: I, I don't approach these things as a matter of ideology or dogma. If, if I'm persuaded If I'm persuaded that there are

PAXMAN: I'm not asking why you do it

HOWARD: I'm answering your question.

PAXMAN: I'm asking whether, whether you think there are other areas.

HOWARD: And I'm answering that question. If, if I am persuaded that there are areas where the private sector can deliver a better service for people in this country than the state can, I'm in favour of it. I'm not, I'm not wedded to any ideology.

PAXMAN: To any ideology

HOWARD: What I'm interested in

PAXMAN: Well presumably you wouldn't privatise the armed forces would you.

HOWARD: No I wouldn't because I think the private sector couldn't do that job. I want people to get the best deal they can in this country. Everyone in this country. And if they can get it from the private sector rather than the state, then I think they should be allowed to. All I'm interested in is getting the best deal for the people of Britain and I think if you ask people what they're interested in, they'll tell you they want the best service they can get. They want the best health care they can get.

PAXMAN: Right.

HOWARD: They want the best education for their kids. That's what they're interested in. And they're not fussed about where it comes from. They want it to be free, quite rightly, and so do I.

PAXMAN: Let's look at immigration.

HOWARD: Erm.

PAXMAN: That's another area in which you've changed. You're proposing a total limit on immigrants to this country including asylum seekers. What's the number.

HOWARD: We haven't got a number yet that's because

PAXMAN: What do you mean you haven't got a number.

HOWARD: .. I'm just about, I'm just about ..

PAXMAN: You're asking, you're asking us to

HOWARD: To tell you.

PAXMAN: You're asking us to make you a government next month

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HOWARD: .. Yes. And I'm just about to tell you why because we will ask parliament every year, to set a limit on the number of people who can come in to this country.

PAXMAN: What is your recommendation

HOWARD: Parliament

PAXMAN: For the parliamentary limit for 2005.

HOWARD: Just let me finish the answer Jeremy. Parliament will set the limit after there's been consultation. There will have to be consultation with the CBI and other employer's organisations, so that we can get the right number of people coming in to this country with skills, which we need, as economic migrants. We will set a number for family reunion, and we'll set a number for genuine refugees, and in that way we will arrive at the annual limit and let me tell you about limits because there are people who think this is an outrageous idea.

PAXMAN: No, let's not go on to the principle of it, just yet I just want to

HOWARD: Well why not get on to the principle.

PAXMAN: I'm going to get on to the, I'm going to get on to the principle

HOWARD: It's the principle of it, it's the principle of it

PAXMAN: Oh yes

HOWARD: That's important.

PAXMAN: We'll deal with the principle, don't you worry.

HOWARD: It's the principle of it that's the difference between us and Mr Blair.

PAXMAN: You say there's going to be a numerical limit. You say you don't know what that limit will be. And yet you said did you not, in an advertisement in the Sunday Telegraph, a matter of a few weeks ago, it would be somewhere between ten and twenty thousand.

HOWARD: No no, that was, that was for asylum seekers. That - that for genuine refugees

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PAXMAN: Oh so in addition to that we'd have econ

HOWARD: for genuine refugees.

PAXMAN: Economic migrants in addition to that.

HOWARD: Yes of course you would. Of course we would.

PAXMAN: Well the Prime Minister is quite able to tell us roughly what number of economic migrants we need. He's told by business, perhaps it's a hundred and thirty thousand. Now if business come to you and say we need a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand perhaps, economic migrants a year, you would deny them would you.

HOWARD: We would talk to them. We wouldn't necessarily accept what they say, we would have a dialogue with them; that's what consultation means. We want to find out what they think.

PAXMAN: I thought you were the party of business.

HOWARD: Well, well we want to find out what they think. We will talk to them, we will ask them to take in to account when they're considering how many people are needed. Please let me finish when, when we're asking them to consider how many people we need, we'd ask them to take in to account the fact that there are millions of people in the new accession countries of the European Union, who are entitled to come here; so bearing in mind that, you look at what Ireland has done, Ireland taken, taking in to account the number of people who can come here from Eastern Europe, has reduced the number of work permits it gives out, from fifty thousand a year to two and a half thousand a year. I think there may be lessons we can learn from Ireland on this.

PAXMAN: Have you not had that conversation yet.

HOWARD: No. When we, when we

PAXMAN: Mr Howard you're ask - you are seriously telling us that in two weeks time, you could have been the victor in this election, and you haven't even had this conversation or what you say is an absolutely critical matter of public policy.

HOWARD: Of course not. We'll have the conversation when we're in government. We'll be set - we'll be asking parliament

PAXMAN: So

HOWARD: At some point in the year to set a limit for 2006. And we will have ample time to consult the CBI and the employer's organisations (overlap)

PAXMAN: Do you think that limit is going to be in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands.

HOWARD: I think it will be less than the number of people who come in to the country today, which is, which is about a hundred and fifty thousand, which has gone up three times under Labour, it's tripled under Labour without anybody being consulted. Without anybody being asked

PAXMAN: So it's less than a hundred and fifty thousand but what .

HOWARD: At all.

PAXMAN: More than a hundred thousand.

HOWARD: I can't give you a precise figure. Less than a hundred and fifty thousand. We will consult

PAXMAN: Shouldn't you have done a bit more homework on this.

HOWARD: Not at all. The, the argument between us and Mr Blair is the point of principle. Mr Blair doesn't believe

PAXMAN: All right

HOWARD: There should be any limits on immigration in this country; I do. That's the point of principle, that's what people will have to decide at the election.

PAXMAN: The real question of high principle here is the question of asylum seekers, the rest is a matter of economics and economic necessity isn't it.

HOWARD: No, no.

PAXMAN: On the question of

HOWARD: No, no no. There's a principle about whether you should have a limit. It's a very important difference

PAXMAN: Whether you're prepared to constrain the economy.

HOWARD: Between - No, no I don't believe it would constrain the economy at all for the reasons

PAXMAN: Okay.

HOWARD: I've given. Let me

PAXMAN: All right, let's look at the question of

HOWARD: Let, let's deal with this for the moment ..

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PAXMAN: - let's look at the question of asylum seekers cos that's the one area you have put a number on isn't it.

HOWARD: No, no no - let's deal with this - no, no, I'll come to that, but let's deal with this point of principle for just one more moment because this is, this is the point on which we're being attacked. This is the difference. We say there should be a limit. Now, I have in my pocket a quotation from the Patron Saint Of Liberalism, Roy Jenkins, and this is what Roy Jenkins said about immigration, this is from Roy Jenkins. He said, 'there is a clear limit to the amount of immigration this country can absorb'

PAXMAN: Yeah.

HOWARD: 'and it's in the interests of the minorities themselves to maintain a strict control'. That's what I think. It's not what Mr Blair thinks. That's the difference in principle between us.

PAXMAN: Let's look at this question of asylum because you are prepared to talk numbers there aren't you.

HOWARD: We've given illustrative figures.

PAXMAN: Yeah, you say ten to twenty thousand.

HOWARD: We haven't, we haven't decided.

PAXMAN: Ten to twenty thousand.

HOWARD: But that's an illustrative figure yes.

PAXMAN: And you have made great play of the fact that you yourself come from refugee stock.

HOWARD: I come from immigrant stock actually, not refugee stock, if you want to be strictly accurate. I do come from immigrant stock.

PAXMAN: I thought I heard you say you came from refugee stock.

HOWARD: No you've, you've, no, that's not true. My father came to this country to do a job. He was an economic migrant if you like. He was not a, he was not a refugee.

PAXMAN: But if you set the limit, let's say upper limit twenty thousand, and the twenty thousand and first person to present themselves on the shores of this country is a say a white farmer from Zimbabwe who's been tortured by Mugabe's thugs, you're quite happy to turn around to him and say, I'm sorry mate, don't unpack go back.

HOWARD: No. No, it wouldn't work like that. Let me, shall I explain to you how it would work. When we have a limit, we would phase obviously sensibly the rate at which we would accept genuine refugees over the year, and we would aim to get the twenty thousand in over the period of a year. So we would have the twenty thousandth, as you, as you describe I suppose arriving some time in December, and if someone arrived, someone wanted asylum in the circumstances that you've described, we would say, you'll have to wait a little while, and we'll put you in to next year's quota, it would work very simply and very effectively in that way.

PAXMAN: You'd still have an enormous back log wouldn't you.

HOWARD: I don't think so at all.

PAXMAN: These peo (fluffs), where would these people actually physically be.

HOWARD: Well what we'd like to, to work towards is, is the following system. At the moment, let's start with describing where we are at the moment.

PAXMAN: No

HOWARD: At the moment you

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PAXMAN: No, where would you put them. Where would they be.

HOWARD: I'll come to it. Just let me, let me tell you how, how we get to where we want to be. At the moment, we have a system that is desperately unfair and inhumane. The people who benefit from it are not genuine refugees, they are the people who pay the people smugglers to come to this country. Genuine

PAXMAN: (overlap) Hang on where would you put these people.

HOWARD: .. refugees. I'm, I'm going to explain that to you Jeremy, you just have to be patient for a moment or two. Only two our of ten of the people who apply for asylum in this country today are genuine refugees, so we want to break the link between people who have to come to the country illegally, who have to trick their way in, in order to apply for asylum. We would take a number of genuine refugees from the UNHCR and if people arrived in this country and wanted to claim asylum we would

PAXMAN: You've now had a minute or two and you still haven't told us where is this place, where are they going to be.

HOWARD: That's because you keep interpreting, if you didn't interrupt I'd have got there by now.

PAXMAN: Look it's very simple, name a place.

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HOWARD: Yeah, if those people, if there are people who come in to this country and who apply for asylum, we would look for overseas processing centres

PAXMAN: Where.

HOWARD: And put them there. Well I'm in opposition, I can't negotiate with other governments.

PAXMAN: You see this is another thing you've not had a conversation about is it.

HOWARD: No but it is when we'll get in to government. And let me ..

PAXMAN: You've not had the conversation yet.

HOWARD: Let me No but it is when we'll get in to government, and let me

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PAXMAN: You've not had the conversation yet. Oh, we've got another piece of paper in your pocket.

HOWARD: We have got another piece of paper, yes we have.

PAXMAN: Where have these pieces of paper suddenly come from.

HOWARD: Well they're, this is, this comes from Number 10 Downing Street as a matter of fact, it's from the Prime Minister, and this is what it says. It was a letter written to the person who was in charge of the European Union at the time, it begins Dear Costas, and it continues, 'I'm writing to ask for a very short discussion at the Brussels European Council, of an idea we've been developing to help deal with the problem of refugees and migration'.

PAXMAN: Yes.

HOWARD: And it goes on to talk about the - asylum seekers arriving in the UK and other EU member states, could be transferred to a transit processing centre where their claims could be assessed, that centre would be located outside the EU. Now the difference between Mr Blair and me is that he talks about things but he doesn't do them. He starts things but he doesn't finish them. He pussy foots around.

PAXMAN: Right(?).

HOWARD: He had the idea himself

PAXMAN: Just to be clear about this

HOWARD: But we would put it in to practise.

PAXMAN: Well you say that he sent a letter

HOWARD: He did.

PAXMAN: Enquiring about it.

HOWARD: Yes he did.

PAXMAN: But just to be clear

HOWARD: He wanted the European Union to do it.

PAXMAN: This, you have no where that has agreed.

HOWARD: Of course not. I'm an opposition

PAXMAN: Fine. Thank you.

HOWARD: Leader but when we're in government we'll negotiate.

PAXMAN: It would also. A rather badly briefed opposition leader apparently.

HOWARD: Mr Blair, Mr, Mr Blair only does things like this if he can get the agreement of the whole of the European Union. I would do it as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. And we'd do it

PAXMAN: This would also involve you would it not in withdrawing from the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

HOWARD: Yes.

PAXMAN: Are you aware of any other civilised country that has withdrawn.

HOWARD: No.

PAXMAN: Are you aware of any other political party in Europe, even for example the extreme right wing national front party in France, advocating such a withdrawal.

HOWARD: I, I've no idea what their

PAXMAN: No, are you aware of the other countries which are not signatories to that, that convention

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HOWARD: Mr Blair is on

PAXMAN: Are you aware of what they are.

HOWARD: Mr Blair is on record as saying that the 1951 Convention is out of date and that it doesn't respond to the circumstances which we face today. I agree with him about that. The difference between us is that he only talks about it, I'm prepared to take action to deal with it.

PAXMAN: You presumably have a list of paper on which you've got the names of the other countries which are not signatories to that convention. You know that they include for example, Saudi Arabia, Libya, North Korea. You want to be in the company of those places do you.

HOWARD: I'm interested in doing what's best for Britain. I'm interested in doing the right thing for the people of this country. I believe that we have to bring immigration under control, that we have to limit the circumstances in which people apply for asylum in this country, and if that means that we have to withdraw

PAXMAN: Right.

HOWARD: From the 1951 convention, that's what I'd do.

PAXMAN: Okay, let me just be clear what it is you're afraid of. Are you seriously saying that unless some measure like yours is taken, there is a danger of something like race riots or something in this country.

HOWARD: I am saying that we need to bring immigration under control and we need to limit it, just as Roy Jenkins said, in the quotation that I've just put to you - because of the importance of good community relations in this country, because we need to have a proper grip on security, and because we need to manage effectively the demands on our public services, the demands on housing and the demands on other things which are associated with immigration. At the moment we have a number of people coming in to the country, the size of a city like Peterborough every year. Over the next few years, the governments own figures show that there will be five million more people coming in to this country, the population will grow by five million because of immigration, that's five times the city of Birmingham. I think that although I recognise this is a country which has benefited from immigration, we are a better, stronger, richer country because we are more diverse, there have to be limits and there have to be controls.

PAXMAN: Two very quick points. Firstly on Europe. Are there any circumstances under which you could contemplate withdrawal from the European Union.

HOWARD: No. I want to be a member of the European Union, that's very clear

PAXMAN: There are no circumstances at all.

HOWARD: I, I believe that we do need to bring powers back from

PAXMAN: Right.

HOWARD: Brussels to Britain, but I want to remain a member, a member of the European Union.

PAXMAN: And secondly, on the Trans Atlantic Alliance. What sort of a Conservative leader is it, who finds the gates to a republican White House closed to them.

HOWARD: A sort of Conservative leader who's not afraid to criticise the Prime Minister of this country when he thinks that those criticisms are justified. I've made criticism of Mr Blair's conduct of the war in Iraq, and I, I will carry on making those criticisms where justified, and er, you know, if that offends certain people, that's though.

PAXMAN: So the choice at this election between you and Mr Blair is between a leader who supports a war and has sway in the White House, and a leader who supported the war and has no sway in the White House.

HOWARD: I would have a perfectly good working relationship with, with President ..

PAXMAN: They wouldn't even let you in through the door.

HOWARD: Bush. Look, if I'm the Prime Minister of this country, and I - and President Bush needs to work with me, which he does, of course we'll work together, of course we'll have a good working relationship. Britain and the United States have many things in common, common interest, common values, and I would have a very effective working relationship with President Bush. What I'm not prepared to do is pull my punches in criticising Mr Blair, because someone else wouldn't, doesn't like me doing that. I am going to do what I think is best for this country, I'm going to say what I think is best for this country, and frankly, no one is going to stop me doing what is best for the people of Britain.

PAXMAN: When you look at your campaign, immigration, private sector in the health service, talk of tax cuts and so on, are you thinking what I'm thinking.

HOWARD: Er, well I've no idea what you're thinking Jeremy.

PAXMAN: I'm thinking it reminds me of William Hague, and we know what happened to him.

HOWARD: Well we've been talking about a range of issues as you know. We have five commitment, cleaner hospitals, school discipline, more police, controlled immigration, lower taxes. We've also been talking about pensions. We've been putting forward

PAXMAN: You need a miracle to win this election.

HOWARD: Serious proposals to deal with the problems facing the country, and with the problems which people are interested in being dealt with. We will act to deal with those problems, that's why I'm actually very confident about the outcome of this election.

PAXMAN: Michael Howard thank you.

HOWARD: Thank you.

PAXMAN: Well, that was the last of our interviews with the three main party leaders. Their fate is in your hands now. Goodbye.

END




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