On the Politics Show, Sunday 31 May 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed David Cameron MP, leader of the Conservative Party.
David Cameron MP, leader of the Conservative Party
JON SOPEL: I'm joined by the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron.
Welcome to The Politics Show.
We heard a clip in the news there, recorded before Gordon Brown gave that interview.
He says that all MPs expenses will have to be scrutinized, going back over four years.
Has this got all party support. Has he been in touch with you about these proposals.
DAVID CAMERON: Yes. The going back over four years does have all party support but there is a problem with what he's proposing and what the House of Commons is doing, is of course they're going back over four years, and asking, was it within the rules at the time. And we all know the rules at the time weren't any good.
So actually, what my scrutiny panel is doing for Conservative MPs is actually going back and asking, what was reasonable and what was right, which I think is a tougher test and that's what we're doing; so I don't put much faith in the four year look back. But we support it, it may come up with some good things.
JON SOPEL: Will you be going before your own scrutiny panel.
DAVID CAMERON: Of course. The scrutiny panel looks at ever single Conservative MP.
JON SOPEL: Because of course there's been the story in today's Mail on Sunday, questioning your own mortgage arrangements. You had seventy thousand pounds that you paid off your own mortgage on your principle residence. You could have put that in to your constituency home, where you maxed out the mortgage.
DAVID CAMERON: Well I think what I did was very reasonable which is that I bought a house in my constituency in 2001, at the time of the election. I claimed the mortgage interest on that house. I was actually paying out more in mortgage interest than I was claiming, but yes, I was claiming a large amount and over a time I managed to pay down some of that mortgage and I'm claiming as well as the mortgage interest for some very basic bills like council tax, electricity and heating and the rest of it.
JON SOPEL: Sure.
DAVID CAMERON: So I don't think what is being said, that somehow I could have reduced the claim on the taxpayer, I don't think that's right.
JON SOPEL: Well the taxpayer is down, they must be. If you could have used that seventy five thousand pounds to reduce the mortgage on your second home, then you would have been claiming less on the additional cost allowance and the taxpayer would have been paying less.
DAVID CAMERON: That's not right for two reasons: first, because I was actually paying out more in interest for my mortgage than I was claiming from the taxpayer and second, when I did pay down the mortgage I was then able to claim for some very basic and standard bills. Things like heating and lighting and water.
I've always taken the view that the best thing to claim for are those reasonable expenses that are about having a second home; so either mortgage interest and rent and then the basic bills and that's why I never claimed for instance for things like Stamp Duty or decorations or furniture or food or gardening or cleaning or any of those things. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: I just wonder whether others will think that this doesn't pass your own smell test.
DAVID CAMERON: Well it's absolutely for others to make that decision. There's no new information on what's come out today. I've always been very clear about what I claim for and when I claim for it and all the rest of it. And I've always been very happy to explain my arrangements.
As I say, I think that what is reasonable is things that are to do with having a second home, that are absolutely clear that that's the point to make .. (interjection)
in my case, what I try and do is move my family all the time from Westminster to the constituency so we stay together.
JON SOPEL: So over the past three weeks that this has been running, we've seen a number of MPs announcing that they're going to stand down at the next election. One of them, your former adviser Andrew MacKay. I'm sure what makes a lot of people's blood boil is the idea that actually, he stays on until the next election. That he's still got his MP's salary, he'll still get the big pay off at the end of it, which you would get by staying on till the end, most people would say, well hang on if I'd done something wrong, I would be out on my ear.
DAVID CAMERON: Well that's why I'd like a General Election right now. I think the Prime Minister should set a date, right now, for either the end of July or maybe the beginning of September and so we wouldn't have people that are announcing their retirement, staying on for a long time as MPs. I think the problem, I'm in a
DAVID CAMERON: Hang on, I suppose why not, but in the end, what the public want is they want to be part of the picture. They want to sit in judgment on MPs. They want to elect a new parliament that will set the new rules, that will elect the new speaker, that will make the new starts. So that's why I say, have that general election now.
And if we can't have an election now, then we should start looking, I agree at re-call powers and whatever. But much the best thing, call the general election, involve the public, let them have their say.
JON SOPEL: Well, okay, you have, you know, that's up to the Prime Minister to decide. What you have the power to say is to Andrew MacKay or Julie Kirkbride or you know, one or two of the others that have announced they're stepping down, actually, I think in view of what you've done, it would be better if you actually forced a by-election now. So that people decide now because it could be another year.
DAVID CAMERON: Look. The powers that I have is to say to my MPs, if they have transgressed to remove them from my Front Bench, which I've done in the case of Andrew MacKay, to force a retirement, which I did in the case of say Peter Viggers and to say that everyone has to in front of the scrutiny panel, or I will take away the whip.
And what I have to try and do is act in a way that is yes, tough, yes firm but also consistent and fair. And that's what I've tried to do throughout and that's what I'll continue to do and that power of removing the whip, I think that is the key to making MPs take part in the scrutiny panel, which I think will result in a lot of people paying back quite a significant amount of money.
Now I know that's not enough and I know people losing the whip isn't enough, and I know people retiring isn't enough and that's why we need to have the general election. That's why the public feel so cheated.
JON SOPEL: Well let me ask you this. Would you welcome Mr MacKay, Julie Kirkbride standing up and saying, the people should decide now in our cases, there should be a by-election.
DAVID CAMERON: That is, any MP
JON SOPEL: I'm asking whether you
DAVID CAMERON: I can't force that.
JON SOPEL: I know that. I'm asking you, would you welcome it.
DAVID CAMERON: Any MP who wants to do that, that would be their decision and we would campaign in a by-election to elect a new Conservative Member of Parliament.
JON SOPEL: Would you welcome it.
DAVID CAMERON: Well I think it's going to depend on the case. I mean I'd much rather have a general election
JON SOPEL: Andrew MacKay's case, would you welcome him having a by-election now in his Berkshire constituency.
DAVID CAMERON: It would be his decision. If he decided to do that, I'd back it, I'd put up a Conservative candidate. I'd fight, I'd go to Bracknell, I'd try and persuade people to vote Conservative. Yes, of course I would, but I
DAVID CAMERON: ... I think I've answered it.
JON SOPEL: You said if he wants to do that. I ask, what I'm trying to ask you is whether you would welcome it, so that the people have a chance to decide. Would you, David Cameron, welcome it.
DAVID CAMERON: If we can't have a general election, then we may have to have powers of recall and that, I would welcome a power of recall, I've said so, but much better, better for the country would be to have a general election where everyone has to get in front of their voters, rather than rush of by-elections, which I think would actually deflect from the need that everyone feels for a general election, so it's the general election I'd welcome, in favour of a by-election.
JON SOPEL: Okay. Let's ask about another MP and this is about your Shadow Justice Minister, Eleanor Laing who the papers report has made about a hundred and eighty thousand pounds, that should have been paid on Capital Gains Tax, on the sale of a property which she, for tax purposes said one thing for parliamentary allowances, said something apparently different. Is it acceptable for someone like that to be serving on your front bench.
DAVID CAMERON: Well the scrutiny panel is going to be looking at every single case like that. They've made very good progress and I'm very clear that if you are getting money for something, as a second home, you can't then claim it's your first home for tax purposes, so that case will be dealt with, you'll see a result and it will be very clear for everyone to see.
JON SOPEL: So in the words of Gordon Brown over Hazel Blears, 'that is totally unacceptable'.
DAVID CAMERON: Well I don't think its right to get money from the taxpayer for what you nominate as a second home and then to sell it and not pay Capital Gains Tax. I put a stop to that immediately, even before the House of Commons with my MPs, I said no more flipping of homes, no redesigation of homes, first and second - and no one selling a second home and not paying Capital Gains Tax.
So I put that in place straight away. That applies for the future, for the past we go through the scrutiny panel; if people have got it wrong, well then money will have to be paid back. John Butterfield is another case and I think we're addressing that one too.
JON SOPEL: So if it's not right, you do have the - absolutely have the power, very simply is, who serves on your front bench. They serve
and in certain cases, people as I say, in the case of Andrew McKay, he left the front bench and where appropriate others will be removed from the front bench if they don't behave appropriately. I mean I take each case, as I say, I have to be, I want to be tough about this, I'm appalled like everyone else is by what has gone on.
I've recognized the public anger, I think I was quite quick to see actually just how bad this problem is and I want to be very tough but I also want to be consistent and fair and that is what I'm trying to do throughout.
JON SOPEL: Let me try and get another definitive answer out of you, this is on fixed term parliaments. You said you were attracted to the idea of it and you've been, apparently people said you'd been thinking about it for three years, can't you just say, Yes there should be fixed term parliaments, no there shouldn't.
DAVID CAMERON: Well, there are two problems we have to address. One is the problem we've got right now, where someone says, Tony Blair, I'm going to serve a full term. Along comes a new Prime Minister, un-elected after two years and actually, I think the country feels they've got an unelected Prime Minister, they were cheated in that way.
So I think that is a problem. And there is a second problem, which we need to work through, which is if you've got a hung parliament, a very weak government, do you want that to limp on over a four or five year cycle rather than be able to have an early election, so what I said in that speech was a fixed term parliament when there's a clear majority, perhaps that is the right way through. But as I said, I put forward a number of things to strengthen out
JON SOPEL: Couldn't you just quickly say yes or no to fixed term parliament.
DAVID CAMERON: I've given you a very full answer for how I think we ought to approach this. But I don't think anyone is going to be satisfied if we just suddenly say, Oh I know what, let's have PR, let's have fixed term parliament - we've got to work through some of these issues but above all, work through them after a general election in which the public has had their say.
JON SOPEL: I just want to ask you about one other issue.
DAVID CAMERON: I can make actually one other point on restoring
JON SOPEL: Very briefly.
DAVID CAMERON: Sticking to what we promised. Having a referendum on the European Constitution, which everyone promised. That would do more for restoring trust and faith in parliament and politicians than any number of quangos and conventions and all the rest of it and if people want a referendum on the European Constitution, they should vote for it by voting Conservative on June 4th.
JON SOPEL: I just want to ask you a very quick question about D-Day. Is it acceptable that the Queen is not going to represent the nation at the 65th anniversary.
DAVID CAMERON: Well I don't want to involve the Queen in politics in any way but what I would say is the government has made a complete mess of this right from the start. To start with, they didn't recognize the importance of the 65th anniversary of D-Day; so they've been too slow off the mark of planning what is an appropriate commemoration of what was one of the most important days in the history of Western Europe.
I was in Warsaw yesterday and met people who'd fought in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, and talking about how they had suffered and how much they want to commemorate it now, because many of their comrades in arms, very few of them are left and so it's really important we celebrate these things in a proper, proper way.
JON SOPEL: David Cameron, thank you very much for being with us.
DAVID CAMERON: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW
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The Politics Show Sunday 31 May 2009 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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