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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 February 2006, 11:07 GMT
Lib Dem leadership
On Sunday 12 February 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed Simon Hughes MP, President of the Liberal Democrats

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

Simon Hughes MP
Simon Hughes MP, President of the Liberal Democrats

ANDREW MARR: Now Simon Hughes launched his manifesto for the Lib Dem leadership this week with an attack on the two rivals.

He dismissed Ming Campbell as a caretaker and said Chris Huhne lacked experience.

Simon Hughes lost out to Charles Kennedy back in 1999 and he's then had to discuss his gay background having denied it, which seemed to set him back.

But he will take heart from this morning's Sunday Times YouGov Poll which suggests he remains the favourite among the party activists who after all are the people with the vote. Simon Hughes welcome.

SIMON HUGHES: Andrew, thank you.

ANDREW MARR: There's a bit of a contrast isn't there, between the people doing spread betting and the pollsters when it comes to the general public who have put you into third position, and this poll amongst the activists which puts you first.


ANDREW MARR: So explain it to us.

SIMON HUGHES: Polls are interesting to people like you, maybe interesting to some of our viewers, but the only polls that count (Dunfermline) is the poll on the day and the result will be announced at the beginning of next month. I'm content with that. The party members will decide. I think it's wide open, I've always thought it was wide open. I've always thought I could win. I think I can win, and that's why I'm trying and making sure that I can.

ANDREW MARR: Interesting that the business about the gay confession and so on articles didn't cause you as much of a step back as quite a lot of people assumed that it would. Is that simply because the party is genuinely liberal about these matters, or did they think perhaps although you hadn't told the truth it was understandable?

SIMON HUGHES: I think it was probably the second. I said these are difficult issues for anybody, I probably didn't handle it very well and I regret that.

But I wanted to move on straight away, I didn't change the arrangements I'd made, I fulfilled my commitments, I hope the party saw me dealing with these matters professionally, and the important thing for the party, and whether it's up in Scotland in by by-election or around the country, are the issues that affect people's daily lives.

ANDREW MARR: And you're presumably sorry for misleading people about it?

SIMON HUGHES: I've said that I'm sorry about that, I regret that.

ANDREW MARR: OK. People say to me that the Tories would like you to win because you're the most left-wing candidate - you're the one in favour, most clearly in favour of higher taxation for the rich...

SIMON HUGHES: No that's wrong Andrew. I'll be very clear, Vince Cable who is our Shadow Chancellor, has coined the phrase "fairer taxes not higher taxes", and I subscribe to that, we collectively subscribe to that. I'm very clear that one of the weaknesses of the party has been that we have looked as if we're a tax and spend party. We've not been as good as we should have been in annunciating policies about people's personal security, financial security - their mortgages, their pensions, their incomes, and therefore I'm clear about the need to get that right. Can I just add the complimentary point but I'm absolutely clear we need a fair Britain.

You'll be interviewing the Chancellor later, the legacy of Labour is after his chancellorship and Tony Blair's premiership, we have a less fair Britain than when they started. And I believe that is wrong. I believe that you get a better and more healthier Britain, a better educated Britain, a safer Britain, if you close the gap between the rich and the poor, and I want that to be a commitment that our party's very, very clearly identified with.

ANDREW MARR: Which must mean a higher tax rate for the rich?

SIMON HUGHES: Yes it does, and I've always been clear that there should be a higher tax rate for the very well off...

ANDREW MARR: What sort of rate do you think - just give people an indication?

SIMON HUGHES: Well we stood on a proposal at the last election that those earning more than 100,000 should pay the money above that at a 50% rate. We all signed up to that. I can't today say what the point at which you have the higher rate and what the higher rate should be, because you can't judge the economy nearer the time but I'm clear there should be a higher rate, I'm clear that the very well off, the people who have six-figure salaries, should pay more. But tax has to be seen in the round, you have to look at other taxes - capital gains taxes and the like.

But you also have to do three other things, you have to take the debt off the backs of people in Britain, you have to make sure that people trying to set off in life together with their families don't have such a terrible difficulty of finding a house they can afford and I have proposals that would allow people to contribute a little bit towards a mortgage and then more. And you need to make sure many of our retired people, who have a small private pension, are not struggling. So we have to have a fairer Britain and that's where Labour, like the Tories, have failed so badly.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you about one of your particular areas recently which is the war against terror, as it's described, and these recent demonstrations. Now, a lot of people when we see it again from the same, the same poll that you take comfort from, asks people about their attitude to some of the demonstrators, it is very hard-line, it is very tough, people want far more early arrests of people who appear to be inciting hatred.

SIMON HUGHES: I agree with that, I have always been critical of the police and the CPS, Crown Prosecution Service, not intervening early enough in the past to deal with the British National Party. And more recently not intervening to deal with extreme Islamic fundamentalists.

There is no place for that. Criticism, even being objectionable to other faiths is a freedom of speech that we have to defend, but incitement to violence is unacceptable. And there should be arrests and prosecutions. And the public are right, and we have said that consistently and I've said it consistently.

ANDREW MARR: Doesn't that mean although they got into trouble in the House of Lords, the government's desire to ban the glorification of terrorism chimes with the instincts of most people?

SIMON HUGHES: I think if people follow the debate they'll see that that phrase which has no basis in law anywhere else, is a phrase that's too wide. We have accepted the alternative which is, if you support or propagate or encourage terrorism, and that's rightfully in the Bill.

But one of the things we've got to be very clear about, it was the House of Commons that decided, for example, that there should be detention for 28 days because the evidence justified that. If the Chancellor, as I understand, is going to come and say that we need to look at a 90-day detention without trial, that's being hugely disrespectful of parliament, of the elected house of senior...

ANDREW MARR: So you mean there is still a liberal position to be adopted on these matters.

SIMON HUGHES: I have fought all my political life to make sure a jury trial is retained. This government have tried to take it away. To make sure civil liberties are upheld, for all of us, everybody. And to make sure there is an equality in Britain. And we haven't seen that delivered.

And one of the frustrations is that we still have a government which is very authoritarian trying to impose its will in ways that I don't think chime with the traditions of the British people. And I will defend that. And my party under my leadership will defend that too.

ANDREW MARR: On Europe - do you believe that the party has been too soppily or softly pro-European and not tough enough on the underlying political questions the European Union throws up?

SIMON HUGHES: In summary, yes, is the answer to that question. I think Europe is I am hugely committed and arguably committed to all the countries of Europe being part of that democratic family to secure peace and prosperity. But, it has concentrated too much on little things, on over-regulating, on over-prescribing. And I think what it should do is do the three or four things it can do very well.

It should be the diplomatic counterweight in the world to the United States, to China, to India. It should be the place where we practice environmental good practice, and sell on environmental technology to the world. We're a model for that, it should be the place for social justice, to make sure that we are a continent which can hold its head up high. What we should not do is put joining the Euro at the front of the political queue. It seems to me that that is not a priority for Britain..

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people...

SIMON HUGHES: ...I hope that it will step further down the list while we concentrate on more important things.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people will breathe a quiet sigh of relief. Simon Hughes we will watch this with great interest. Thank you very much indeed.

SIMON HUGHES: Thank you very much.

ANDREW MARR: Now I should just make clear that the Sunday Times poll was of those planning to vote Liberal Democrat in a General Election, and not party members who actually have a vote. Nonetheless, very interesting.


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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