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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 November 2005, 12:59 GMT
Jon Sopel interview
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 November 2005, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, MP
  • Lord Strathclyde
  • Lord McNally
  • Vincent Cable MP


Margaret Beckett, MP
Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, MP

Interview with Margaret Beckett

JON SOPEL: Now where is Tony Blair on targets because we've been getting some mixed messages?

MARGARET BECKETT: Yes we are very much on track for our Kyoto targets. In fact we remain on track to do better than our Kyoto targets by the target date, which is of course, 2012.

JON SOPEL: What about the more ambitious targets, the self imposed ones of reducing by 20%, by 2010. Is that going to happen.

MARGARET BECKETT: We're not on target for that at present and that's why we're having a review now, of our climate change programme. It was always intended that we'd reassess it this year, to see whether all the, the measures that people have put in place, were delivering what was hoped. So we're reviewing it now and we hope to publish proposals to show how we can get back towards our 20% by 20 ... (overlaps)

JON SOPEL: You think you can do it.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, we are discussing the proposals now but we are trying to put together a package of proposals that shows that we can. But what I think we will have to bear in mind is that as ever ... (interjection)

JON SOPEL : You seem to be saying you're not going to reach the targets.

MARGARET BECKETT: No, no, I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is the measures that we thought would put us in a particular place by 2005 haven't all delivered just what people thought. Some have delivered a bit more, others a bit less. So we'll have to bear that in mind when we put together this package.

JON SOPEL: Is it better to have a target that's virtually impossible to reach or to have a more modest target that you might get.

MARGARET BECKETT: Very good question. The target is not arbitrary. The target is driven by the science, our long term target in particular of trying to get a 60% cut in emissions by 2050.

That's on the basis of what scientists tell us we need to do to stabilize the climate and so our earlier targets are kind of working back from that. So I suppose it's not cast iron, you don't have to be on a straight line trajectory, but you have to be in the right ball park.

JON SOPEL: As things stand, would you bet on us reaching that, the self imposed government target. I'm just trying to get your body language and - your tone of this, which you sound quite pessimistic about it.

MARGARET BECKETT: I would hope and expect yes, that we can achieve it. Because that's what we need to do to achieve the overall goal which is to stabilise our climate.

JON SOPEL: And so what sort of things are you looking at in the Climate Change Review.

MARGARET BECKETT: Anything and everything that will deliver savings in carbon. we are looking and in fact Alistair Darling made the announcement only the other day that we're going to have quite a demanding target for the use of bio fuels, so we are looking at what can be done from transport.

We're looking, and it's too early to assess what it will bring, but we're hoping that this December's environment council to persuade people that we ought to put aviation emissions in to the European Emissions Trading Scheme, that would take time, but that would be important. So, you know, we're looking at a whole range of factors.

JON SOPEL: Now where is Tony Blair on targets because we've been getting some mixed messages.

MARGARET BECKETT: It's, it's actually quite a difficult issue because every time I've heard talk about targets, he talks about the fact that we need to have a more flexible approach to the next round if you like, of the Kyoto negotiations, than we had in the previous one because we're trying to bring in many more countries including major players like not only the United States but China and India, and you have to be sympathetic to the concerns they have for the their growth and their development. But he also says ... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: So we forget targets.

MARGARET BECKETT: No, no. No, he's not saying that at all. In fact he made two very clear statements only this last week because there's been all this misunderstanding that there are two areas that you need to work on.

One is yes, let's look to see if there are technologies that we can either, that we either know about, could bring forward or that are new, and also, let's look at the kind of framework of a robust agreement that you could get which actually could bring more people on board. He's always said both of those things but there's been a tendency for people to hear only the one in which they were most interested.

And there's been a particular tendency for people who are not too keen on approaching the challenge of climate change, to pick the one that they like, and say, oh Tony Blair is saying Kyoto is failing. He's not said that, he's never said that.

JON SOPEL: I think and I would probably - say probably I'm changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years. I think if we're going to get action on this we have got to start from the brutal honesty about the politics of how we deal with it, ie a different approach to the one adopted at Kyoto.

MARGARET BECKETT: Yes, but the approach, the specific approach adopted at Kyoto was in fact of, of negotiated numbers for all the participants in that first set of programmes. Now that was about thirty nine countries I think. It took five years to agree.

In Montreal, when we talk about the first meeting of the Kyoto Parties, there's going to be a hundred and eighty nine countries there. So we have to see what kind of binding framework of international agreement we can get, that can bring in so - many more players, because that's what we need to do.

JON SOPEL: What do you say to those people who say the way ahead is that you've actually got to go, I don't know, and tell the Americans and whoever else, the Chinese, that they have to accept these binding targets.

MARGARET BECKETT: I call this the new imperialism, you know, we just sort of walk in to Montreal and give instructions to all these major nation states, with major problems of development and growth, as to what they should do.

Do not listen to anybody who tells you that this is easy and it's going to happen. They've never negotiated anything in their lives. This is not going to happen.

JON SOPEL: Well, let's talk about how we can reduce it further. The CO2 emissions. Isn't there one blindingly obvious answer and we've just heard from Brian Wilson the former energy minister saying it's clear, it's called nuclear power.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, you were asking me earlier about our target for 2010. I think everybody agrees, probably even Brian, that there's nothing nuclear, nothing extra nuclear can bring to that particular party because there's just no way you could get new nuclear power stations in time to contribute to that; so no one disputes that nuclear power is a low carbon energy source. But equally, I don't think anyone disputes that it brings other problems in its train.

JON SOPEL: I personally think, this is a quote from you, I personally think that it's actually quite difficult to make the case that it is a sustainable form of energy. Essentially, instinctively, you are anti nuclear. Is that a fair summary of your position.

MARGARET BECKETT: No. My position is that there are lots of concerns about nuclear. There's the cost, which has never probably really been properly explored. There is the issue of the waste and how we deal with it and what the consequences are of having new nuclear build.

But I've always accepted and in fact it's, it says it explicitly in our Energy White Paper of a couple of years ago, that particularly because of climate change, we could come to a position where we and other governments were driven back towards nuclear; so I've always accepted we can't afford to close the door on nuclear.

JON SOPEL: Well could you see a commitment being made that rather than it being 25% of energy output in this country, it rises substantially over the next twenty, thirty years.

MARGARET BECKETT: It's early to tell because it depends how much people accept, if they accept that this is something we have to do because of climate change. I actually think it's going to be quite hard to get people to accept that we build a lot of new nuclear power stations.

JON SOPEL: The nuclear industry say it would take six hundred wind turbines working at full capacity, and they normally operate at 30% capacity, to match say the output of Sizewell B.

MARGARET BECKETT: Yes. Well, I mean there's no doubt that a great deal of the opposition to wind power, which is very vociferous, is being driven by people who actually would prefer us to use nuclear power: that may not be everybody's view. But it isn't only wind power. I mean wind is the renewable technology that is most readily available and cheapest now.

But there are lots of other technologies and one of the things that we're doing is working with, through the G8 and others, working with other people to say, what are the range of technologies that we can have and that we can have on offer.

JON SOPEL: What about the idea of micro-generation for example, where you've got small groups and they're generating their own electricity and they sell the surplus to the National Grid.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well some people do do that yes. There are, there's a huge experiment about to take place I understand in California and elsewhere with solar power.

The Germans are putting in enormous investment in to solar power for domestic housing. There's a whole range of things.

JON SOPEL: Do you think there's a problem with the way the government is structured in the sense that, this is a responsibility of a lot of departments, but it's not the central priority of any one department.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well it's the central priority of my department, but you're absolutely right that we have to work - one of the things I said to my cabinet colleagues a while ago is that we have the targets and you have the levers. So yes, we all have to work together.

JON SOPEL: And the Environmental Audit Committee says, We are frustrated by the absence of a clear, central direction to the Government's work on climate change.

MARGARET BECKETT: Yeah, well. The Environmental Audit Committee is one of many bodies that has a view that it would be better if the department was structured in a slightly different way.

But if you look at all the list of things that people say, you know, or said people say we ought to deal with energy, somebody else says we ought to deal with planning. I mean we just have one government Department.. (overlaps)

JON SOPEL: Well you scoff at that and I bet you're going to scoff at this next quote. DEFRA does not yet have sufficient clout to be taken seriously by other government departments in framing the key policy decisions.

JON SOPEL: Same committee. Environment ... (overlaps)

MARGARET BECKETT: Same committee. Yes. Yes well, I mean it's their job to be critical. It's their job to put the pressure on.

But for example, from next year, every government department will be carbon offsetting all their aviation. But it's natural. People look at where they think there are gaps, rather than where there's success.

JON SOPEL: And climate change is meant to be one of the two key priorities for Britain's Chairmanship of the G8 and yet you've got Tony Blair out fighting fires on Education, the Welfare Reform agenda, the Terror Bill, I mean it can't be getting much done.

MARGARET BECKETT: You can't accuse him of neglecting this agenda. In the last year, while we've been in the Presidency of the G8, we had - he was in Davos at the beginning of the year, talking to global businesses about it.

We had the Size Conference, we had the Energy and Environment Ministers Conference in March. We had the Gleneagles Summit.

JON SOPEL: He's not doing so well on Education reform is he.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, we are at the beginning of a process of discussion there and he's engaging in it with a great deal of Úlan and vigour. But in the last (interjection) ...

JON SOPEL: Is the Cabinet united on it.

MARGARET BECKETT: Yes.

JON SOPEL: Why were there all those leaks then when the White Paper was being discussed, saying that John Prescott and others were opposed to it.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, I profoundly disapprove of the way that some people talk about private discussions. In any policy ...

JON SOPEL: Well those are your Ministers because they were the only people in the room.

MARGARET BECKETT: No, that's not true actually. But I mean, that's without, without putting the blame on at anybody's door ...

JON SOPEL: Well who was responsible then.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well no, nobody knows. If we knew who was responsible we could stop it. But the fact is in any major policy area where there are big decisions to be made, there are bound to be differences of view and what - part of what government is about, is trying to find the common ground where those differences of view arise.

But as I say, in the last ten days, while all that's been going on, the Prime Minister has made two major statements, three I think, about climate change.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Margaret Beckett, thank you very much.

MARGARET BECKETT: Thank you.

End of interview

Lord Strathclyde
Lord Strathclyde

Interview with Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally

JON SOPEL: Now the Terror Bill will go down in history as the occasion of Tony Blair's defeat in the House of Commons.

The Government was defeated over plans to hold terror suspects for up to ninety days without charge.

The Bill goes to the House of Lords tomorrow and an equally rough ride is likely there.

Well I'm joined by the two opposition party leaders in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde for the Conservatives and for the Liberal Democrats, Lord McNally.

Lord Strathclyde, first of all, are you happy with twenty eight days.

LORD STRATHCLYDE: Yes. We're happy with twenty eight days. The Conservative Party supported the twenty eight day amendment in the House of Commons and we will do the same thing in the House of Lords.

I mean this is a very important Bill, coming to the House of Lords: it's important because it deals with national security, it's also very controversial, given that it did give the Prime Minister ... the first defeat and a massive defeat in the House of Commons, so there is a tremendous responsibility on the House of Lords to look at this in a careful manner, and that is what I expect will happen in the weeks ahead.

JON SOPEL: And Lord McNally, the same.

LORD McNALLY: I think, well first of all we've got to remember twenty eight days is actual doubling of the present powers, so I think the Lords will want to re-examine the whole case again. But I don't think there is a majority to change the twenty eight days.

JON SOPEL: You see, I spoke to Mark Oaten on this programme a month ago and he said, I don't think it's about bartering on the time, I think it's about the principle itself. Now you're saying you're happy to accept twenty eight days.

LORD McNALLY: I'm saying that I've got seventy two votes in the House of Lords and there are six hundred and odd votes, so what I'm saying is that the House of Lords will probably, and probably rightly, accept the judgement of the House of Commons on this matter.

JON SOPEL: Are you two working together on this one.

LORD STRATHCLYDE: Well we tend not to work together as closely as many people imagine but we will be making a case ...

JON SOPEL: That sounds like a yes, we are working together.

LORD STRATHCLYDE: In the House of Lords, inevitably, the parties of opposition and Labour rebels tend to come together in order to defeat the government.

I don't know whether we will defeat the government in this Bill or not because one of the most important aspects of this sort of legislation, is to try and create a political consensus, right across the parties, and between the two houses. Now because of the way the government has behaved, we failed to be able to create that consensus.

JON SOPEL: Now, an important element of the Bill is the idea of glorification of terrorism. You're opposed outright to that aren't you.

Lord McNally
Lord McNally

LORD McNALLY: We are worried that we are going to have in this bill, the kind of clause that you had with that old man at the Labour Party Conference, that actually got charged under a clause of the previous Terror Bill.

There's a great danger in legislation like this, of putting in clauses that sound perfectly good and right and sound like you're being tough and macho and then you have consequences to that legalisation.

One of the advantages of the House of Lords and the fact that the government has to work for .. business, in a House which is full of experts, is that this kind of legislation gets a very through going over, and that's what it's going to get in the next few weeks.

JON SOPEL: But you are prepared to accept a clause of glorification, providing it is watered down a bit, modified.

LORD STRATHCLYDE: Yes. What we want to see is the clause on glorification not being used for people who undeliberately create a case of glorification. In other words, there has to be intent, I think that that is fair and sensible. But this is precisely the kind of clause that I think Tom was talking about.

This is what the House of Lords is good at, looking at it in a line by line basis, what is going to work, what is going to be practical law and what isn't. And remember, on this issue the government only won it in the House of Commons by one single vote, so it is something on which I hope that they will be coming forward with proposals.

JON SOPEL: Well we talked a bit about how you two have worked together to some extent. I mean what about what they call the usual channels of working with the government because the impression was created the government wanted a deal in the House of Commons, what's happening, what do you make of what's happening at the moment.

LORD McNALLY: That was always on offer. Right from the beginning Mark Oaten and David Davis offered, right at the beginning of this to work together with the government on this Bill. And as far as we knew, those conversations were going on with the Home Secretary. The next thing we do, the Prime Minister is giving one of his ... (interjection) ... famous press conferences, that blew all this out of the window.

LORD STRATHCLYDE: I mean before the Bill started its process in the House of Commons and since, it was clear from all the conservations that we'd had with the Home Secretary, and from the body language of the Home Office corporately, that they were looking to come to an arrangement with parliament, with the Conservative Party, with the Liberal Democrats, and most importantly, with their own back benchers. And at the very last minute, the Prime Minister changed his mind.

I believe that he did that for purely political reasons; either to paint us as being soft on terrorism, which is a ludicrous charge, or in the event of there being some terrible attack, he would be able to say, I told you so. Both of these things are, are very negative ways of looking at the issue. We should be looking for a genuine political consensus, on dealing with the problems of terrorism.

JON SOPEL: Both of you thank you. I can't help noticing your red socks. Is that in solidarity with Sir Christopher Mayer who was accused today of being a red-socked fop in the Observer.

LORD STRATHCLYDE: When I awoke this morning to see that John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister was attacking the idea of wearing red socks, so I'm wearing them today and I hope he's watching the programme.

JON SOPEL: Lord Strathclyde, Lord McNally, both of you, thank you very much.

End of interview

Interview with Vincent Cable

JON SOPEL: And Vince Cable is with me now. I want to talk about the economics in a moment. What's the politics of this. Why are you changing.

VINCE CABLE: Well as a serious and ambitious political party, we want to demonstrate financial discipline and that's why we've made this commitment that if we're going to the next election, make commitments, whether it's on schools or policing or pensions, we need to be making economies somewhere else.

JON SOPEL: Is that an admission that you haven't shown financial discipline in the past.

VINCE CABLE: That's how we're often being perceived and (interjection) we have I think unjustifiable, we've worked very hard over the last few elections on having costed programmes, but there was a perception, it's very unjustified actually if you look at the record of Liberal Democrats in local government.

... cities like Newcastle and Liverpool are managed in a very tight way with keeping taxes down and spending down, but we need to get this message of financial discipline across and that's why we're making this commitment at this stage.

JON SOPEL: Isn't it abdicating all responsibility, I mean what happens if the government goes on a massive spending spree and increases the take of GDP to 42 or 43% or makes swingeing cuts and you're saying, we'll accept whatever Gordon Brown says.

VINCE CABLE: No, we have to have a working assumption. As you know we've set up this tax commission which is looking at how we would re-balance taxes to make it fairer.

We have this basic approach which is to say that taxes should be fairer but not higher. That's where we start from. We can't operate in a vacuum and we're just trying to set public expenditure within that overall framework.

JON SOPEL: But it's true though that if Gordon Brown suddenly went on a big spending spree, you'd say that, okay fine, we'll accept those targets or equally if there were big spending cuts.

VINCE CABLE: Well if, if he were to do that that's all the more reason for us to be able to demonstrate that there were areas of public expenditure that are of lower priority and we did this in the last parliament: we showed for example, that it would, it was possible to make tough choices of about five billion a year.

We, we proposed getting rid of the baby bond, subsidies from the DTI, the Euro Fighter contract. There will be others arising. Already we're, for example we've said we're not willing to support the massive subsidy the government is going to make to identity cards.

JON SOPEL: Are you in favour of keeping the 50% tax rate for those earning over a hundred thousand pounds.

VINCE CABLE: That's to be determined, but what I am in favour of and what the party is in favour of is a fairer system and what I mean by that is that people who are very well off, who are very rich, who have high incomes and wealth, will pay more the poor and of course more than they do now.

Now whether the best way of doing that is to have a 50p tax rate or some other combination of taxes is yet to be determined, but the principle that lies behind it, of having a fairer and progressive taxation, it remains a commitment. And a strong one.

JON SOPEL: That didn't quite answer my question which is, are you personally in favour of a 50% tax rate.

VINCE CABLE: It, it's not my own persona view which matters.

JON SOPEL: You're the treasury spokesman ... (overlaps)

VINCE CABLE: No ...

BOTH TOGETHER

VINCE CABLE: ... we have a collective decision making process. We've set up this tax commission, which I'm part of and, and we're going to achieve a consensus for our conference next year. And that's certainly one of the ways in which you can create a more progressive tax system. There are some advantages to it but there are some disadvantages, of course the rest of the world is changing ... we need to look at the technicalities of it.

BOTH TOGETHER

JON SOPEL: Do you think that policy might have cost you at the last election. I mean if you look at those key Tory seats you won two, lost five.

VINCE CABLE: Well the story about how we fairer with the Conservatives last election is a very mixed picture as you know, there are many seats we, we won seats spectacularly in Westmoreland. We just ...

BOTH TOGETHER

VINCE CABLE: ... including my own seat.

JON SOPEL: Yes, I'm focusing on this 50%, whether it cost you.

VINCE CABLE: I, I don't think so. I don't think that was a material factor but non the less we've got to get this right. And we've got to get a set of tax polices that is seen to be fair, that - not raising the overall burden. That's the parameters within which we're going to operate.

JON SOPEL: And how controversial is this going to be within the Liberal Democrat party.

VINCE CABLE: Well there will be some dissident views and you've already heard one. But I think the basic framework will be accepted and the reason for that is that the, the base of our activists is in local government. Many of our active members are involved in running local councils.

They know that they have to make tough choices. They do that they do it very well in many case. And so I think the framework within which we're operating, will be well understood

JON SOPEL: Okay Vince Cable. Thank you very much indeed.

VINCE CABLE: Thank you.


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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