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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 March, 2005, 14:30 GMT
Jeremy Vine interviews
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

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.

On Politics Show, Sunday 20 March, 2005, Jeremy Vine interviewed:

  • Patricia Hewitt, MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

Patricia Hewitt, MP
Patricia Hewitt, MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

Patricia Hewitt, MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

Jeremy Vine: And cabinet Minister Patricia Hewitt joins us now. Good afternoon to you.

Patricia Hewitt: Good afternoon.

Jeremy Vine: Remarkable things that Derek Draper was saying. He was at the heart of New Labour, and now he seems to think it doesn't really have a soul.

Patricia Hewitt: Well I'm astonished by what Derek Draper was saying. You know, tomorrow for example, we're going to be publishing our Children's Manifesto, we're going to be setting out, amongst other things, how we'll respond to Jamie Oliver's wonderful campaign, and make sure the schools dinners really are fit to eat and really are good for our children.

Now we're doing that because we want every child in Britain to have the best possible start in life. That is something that Tony Blair is as passionate about now, as he always has been and we know we've done a lot to cut for instance the number of people, the number of children growing up in poverty.

The Sure Start programme is having a wonderful effect in many communities. But there is so much more we have to do and that's the choice that we're setting out very very clearly at this election.

Jeremy Vine: Since you mentioned Jamie Oliver there, which is the kind of thing that a Party would do if it had lost its sense of mission wouldn't it. Jamie Oliver does a TV programme, you think oh, that's a good idea, you jump on top of it just before an election.

Patricia Hewitt: Not at all. I mean what we've already done is introduce free fruit, free school fruit, because that was one way of making sure that children, over two million children, have benefited from that and it's helping. We've already raised, er particularly reading, writing and math's standards in our Primary schools.

But we know there is so much more to do and in particular, we can now afford to embark on a re-building programme for all of our schools, an astonishing investment, bigger than there's ever been in our country, and that will include a proper kitchen in every primary school, so that children can have freshly cooked food.

Jeremy Vine: Right. But Derek Draper says, I don't want my vote to be used as vindication for Tony Blair, I'd like him to wake up after the Election and feel like a hunted man, and he was at the heart of it, that's the point.

Patricia Hewitt: Well I thought Derek Draper was making an astonishing and actually very dangerous suggestion that people who would like a Labour government, should none the less abstain or vote for some other party.

Jeremy Vine: Get Blair out.

Patricia Hewitt: And of course, there is the huge danger that if people who want a Labour government, do abstain from voting, or vote for some other party, actually, the danger is, they will let the Conservatives in by the back door.

Jeremy Vine: They might get Brown, they might get Brown.

Patricia Hewitt: The only way to get a Labour government, is actually to vote for a Labour government.

Jeremy Vine: But if, if as he says, if you have a slim majority and people start to say, well, Mr Blair's the problem here, you get the Chancellor taking over.

Patricia Hewitt: I think these kind of games frankly with tactical voting and personalities and the rest of it are very very dangerous and I think the real choice at this election is about, are we going to have a strong economy, are we going to keep on increasing the number of people in employment. Are we going to keep on investing in and reforming our public services.

Or, are we going to have a Conservative Government, with all the risk of going back to the days of 10% interest rates and even higher and cuts in our public services, because the Conservatives are now pledging to cut thirty five billion pounds from public spending, and you cannot do that without having an effect on the public services that all of us depend on in our daily lives.

Jeremy Vine: Well, you've used what you have made your poster campaign slogan of. Your slogan is, Warning, the Tories will cut thirty five billion pounds from public services. It would help if that were true, wouldn't it.

Patricia Hewitt: It comes directly Jeremy, from the Conservatives own promises. This is Oliver Letwin's own promises. To cut public spending, by thirty five billion pounds, starting in the first year, it would be seven billion pounds in the first year. And then building up to thirty five billion pounds of cuts. Now ...

Jeremy Vine: (interjects) It's not - what you're saying isn't true, they are increasing spending. They say a cut is a reduction. They are saying they're increasing spending.

Patricia Hewitt: Jeremy I'm going back to exactly what Oliver Letwin, the Conservative shadow Chancellor is saying and one reason why we are putting this up so plainly is because the Conservatives, really in this pre-election campaign, are absolutely refusing to talk about the economy and public service investment, and the real choices that are actually facing people.

Jeremy Vine: But they're saying they're going to spend more in health and education.

Patricia Hewitt: And if you take, if you take thirty five billion pounds out of the planned increase in our health and education and other public services, then that is a cut. And that is how it would be felt ...

Jeremy Vine: (interjects) They are saying ... I'm sorry ...

Patricia Hewitt: ... in every community in the country.

Jeremy Vine: I'm sorry, they are saying they're going to match your spending in health and education; so that's not true either. Is it?

Patricia Hewitt: They have said that they would match spending in hospitals and schools, but you see the scale of the cuts that they are proposing and the claims they're making for saving on waste simply don't add up.

For instance, as you know, we've already taken, we're committed to taking over twenty billion pounds of waste and inefficiency out of the system, following Sir Peter Gershon's review on efficiency. And we've already allocated those savings as they come through to increases in public spending.

The Conservatives are trying to say that they'll spend that money all over again. So their sums don't add up. They have pledged, not we, they have pledged, thirty five billion pounds in cuts. Less public spending than there would be under a Labour government.

Jeremy Vine: The message is ...

Patricia Hewitt: And that's a cut in anybody's language.

Jeremy Vine: Well you say that it is. The message is, we are, in your words, Labour are going to be really generous. The Conservatives are going to be slightly less generous, and so you're going to accuse them of a cut. Doesn't make sense.

Patricia Hewitt: Jeremy, Jeremy, you use this phrase, slightly less generous.

Jeremy Vine: They're increasing spending.

Patricia Hewitt: Thirty five billion pounds, which is how much less the Conservatives would spend compared with Labour, is actually more than the total education budget.

Jeremy Vine: Can you tell us then which ...

Patricia Hewitt: You cannot take ...

Jeremy Vine: Can you tell us which taxes you will increase to fund this spending.

Patricia Hewitt: We've already set out our public spending plans and our tax plans in the budget. We'll say more of course about taxation in the Manifesto, though remember in the last two Manifestoes, we pledged not to increase either the basic or the top rate of income tax ...

Jeremy Vine: And you did increase the tax on income did you not ...

Patricia Hewitt: ... and we did not. We did not.

Jeremy Vine: Because you put up National Insurance. So you told us you wouldn't do it and you did.

Patricia Hewitt: No, we said, very clearly, we would not increase the basic rate or the top rate of income tax and ...

Jeremy Vine: And put up National Insurance.

Patricia Hewitt: ... we didn't increase either. And then, for National Insurance, we increased it by one pence, because we believed, and the public supported us very strongly in this, that that investment was needed year on year¿.

Jeremy Vine: Why wasn't that in your Manifesto. Why wasn't it.

Patricia Hewitt: ... for, for National Health Service.

Jeremy Vine: Why wasn't that in your Manifesto.

Patricia Hewitt: It was in the budget and no government, no political party has ever tried to anticipate five years worth of budget judgements in their manifesto. It is simply not possible to do that.

Jeremy Vine: But you have just done that here and now haven't you because you've given us figures which are extrapolated from your spending in five years time.

Patricia Hewitt: Jeremy, the figures I've quoted, the thirty five billion pounds in cuts, come directly from Oliver Letwin's and the Conservatives own calculations. And there is a real issue here Jeremy about the values of the different political parties.

The Conservative party have said, for instance, on the NHS, they want to take a billion pounds out of the NHS and give it to the minority of people who want a private operation and can afford to pay half the cost. That would mean less money for all the rest of us using the National Health Service.

Jeremy Vine: All right. Just to confirm ...

Patricia Hewitt: Now we want, we have already doubled NHS spending compared with '97 by 2008 we'll have trebled it, and that is money that is supporting free health care for everybody. As they need it.

Jeremy Vine: Right. You're happy to talk about spending, you're not happy to talk about the taxes you may have to rise to fund that spending.

And we heard the man from the IFS, in the film, saying you're twelve billion pounds adrift. He's an independent expert. Can you tell us whether you will or will not raise National Insurance.

Patricia Hewitt: We have set out, and we set out in '97, tough rules on public spending and taxation. On fiscal discipline - it's part of the reason that we've got a strong economy now.

The IFS and other commentators for years, have been saying there's a black hole in taxation, or there's a recession round the corner, and they've been wrong every time. Now we are not going to do anything that puts at risk the prudent economic framework we've put in place and the strong economy that we've built.

And Gordon Brown was very clear in last week's budget about how we can afford the public spending commitments we're making.

Jeremy Vine: Without raising taxes.

Patricia Hewitt: And stick to the Golden Rule.

Jeremy Vine: Without raising taxes.

Patricia Hewitt: Without raising tax rates.

Jeremy Vine: Right. After a certain time in power you get in to a position where you are having to reverse your own policies in the past, and this is coming right home to your department isn't it. You are cutting red tape, some of which your department, under Labour, has been responsible for.

Patricia Hewitt: We're certainly determined to cut regulation and make life easier for the small businesses, the entrepreneurs who are absolutely the back bone of the economy. Now let me just ...

Jeremy Vine: You've increased regulation.

Patricia Hewitt: Well let me just say on this that actually, if you look at for instance what the OECD and the other international organisations say, Britain consistently comes out as one of the top two or three places in the world in which to set up a business and there are a thousand more businesses setting up every day.

Jeremy Vine: We're dropping aren't we though.

Patricia Hewitt: But we can. No, a thousand more businesses every day.

Jeremy Vine: But our competitiveness is dropping.

Patricia Hewitt: No we're in the top two or three in terms of the best place in the world to start up and grow a business. But frankly, with the competition that we're all facing from China and India and so on, we need to do even better.

And what we're now doing and we've accepted the Philip Hampton Report, that we had last week, is to say for instance, by bringing together a number of the different regulators and making sure they only inspect firms where they've got a reason to think something might be going wrong. We can cut the number of inspections of businesses by a million a year.

Now that will save a lot of time, particularly for small businesses, and that's time they can use to sell more products and make more money, and employ more people.

End of interview

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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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday, 10 April, 2005 at 12.00.

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