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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 October 2006, 11:30 GMT
Lib Dem policy
On Sunday 29 October, Huw Edwards interviewed Sir Menzies Campbell MP.

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

Sir Menzies Campbell MP
Sir Menzies Campbell MP

HUW EDWARDS: Sir Menzies is with me this morning. Good morning to you.

MING CAMPBELL: Good morning.

HUW EDWARDS: They're not going to admit they're wrong are they?

MING CAMPBELL: They're beginning to admit they're wrong in the United States. Under the pressure of these mid term elections which are now only a matter of a few days away George Bush is talking publicly about changing tactics.

And what he's really doing is responding to the enormous anxiety among public opinion in the United States and also of course to that leaked document which James Baker is likely to produce some time quite soon saying you really have to change the strategy fundamentally.

For example, you have to start talking to Syria and Iraq.

HUW EDWARDS: Time tables. We're now hearing time tables of twelve to eighteen months for a gradual withdrawal of troops. Is that something you would subscribe to given the circumstances there? It's not possible immediately is it?

MING CAMPBELL: I think the only thing that's available now is phased withdrawal.

And I'm in no doubt whatsoever that plans are already being made in the Ministry of Defence for that. Because you don't just walk out. You take seven and a half thousand men and women and their equipment.

One military expert said to me last week he thought it would take a minimum of six weeks. And of course at that point you're at your most vulnerable. So I'm in no doubt that these plans are being laid.

But I'm equally in no doubt that we should all take our cue from what Sir Richard Danner, the senior solider said just a fortnight ago when he talked about leaving sooner rather than later. I interpreted that as being in a matter of months rather than a matter of years.

HUW EDWARDS: And you were happy for him to say that thing as a serving officer. You didn't think that he was crossing any boundaries by saying that?

MING CAMPBELL: Well I think there were some constitutional boundaries being crossed but of course he said it, it was in the public domain.

And if you remember the Prime Minister rather embraced him. The Prime Minister had no option really but to say well actually I agree. Well of course if he did agree it was a very substantial change than his previous positions.

What I think was happening though was a reflection of the deep anxiety in the Ministry of Defence about the position we now find ourselves in Iraq and the consequences that has had for Afghanistan as well.

HUW EDWARDS: The notion of splitting Iraq into three. Would that work?

MING CAMPBELL: Very difficult. Because if it is effectively a break up, dismemberment of Iraq, then you have all the possibility of instability in the region.

For example Tehran making common cause with the south. You have the Kurds in the North who already enjoy an enormous degree of autonomy, perhaps wanting even more, and exercising a lot of anxiety in Turkey, in Syria and in Iran as well.

And of course the problem would be leaving a disenfranchised and with Sunni minority in the centre, with no access to oil, money or anything of that kind and feeling as, as it does now that it has been toppled off its perch of supremacy because of the ending of the reign of Saddam Hussein.

But it may be that a federal solution with a central government, with a degree of autonomy and with proper sharing of the oil revenues might give you a form that would work.

HUW EDWARDS: More reports today - we've had lots in the last few months - that what's happened in Iraq and indeed in Afghanistan has encouraged hard line extremists everywhere but certainly in Britain.

A, do you buy that, that sort of direct link and secondly we'll come on to some of the social consequences. So on the link first of all?

MING CAMPBELL: Well you don't, I don't have to buy it.

The security services bought it because there's a report of the intelligence and security committee of parliament that records the fact that the Prime Minister was told by the security services that military action against Iraq may well have the consequence of increasing terrorist activity.

Now what he said, and it's recorded in that report as well "These are judgments you have to make". Well the judgment seems to have fallen down pretty fairly and squarely on the side that what we have done has increased risk.

HUW EDWARDS: The, I mean what happened over the last few months of course is that this debate got clouded with other issues in Britain, not least the debate about the veil.

And I mean I had a look for what your party had been saying on that. Not a lot. I mean I don't think you'd said anything directly about it.

MING CAMPBELL: No I didn't.

HUW EDWARDS: Why did you not say anything?

MING CAMPBELL: Well because I thought Jack Straw's intervention was an insensitive one. I think there is a debate to be had about the, these questions of integration, about the role of women, about the extent of which people are allowed to wear symbols like for example the crucifix. And we've had a couple of rather silly cases about that too haven't we? But that's a debate you have to have in careful and measured terms.

You shouldn't start on a unilateral basis. And it's perhaps not surprising that Muslim communities which already feel under a tremendous degree of scrutiny and in some respects threat, responded in the kind of way they did. That's not to say we shouldn't have a debate ..

HUW EDWARDS: No, no.

MING CAMPBELL: .. about how a multicultural society allows people the opportunity to make those demonstrations of faith.

HUW EDWARDS: But if viewers this morning said well hang on Sir Menzies, you know what is your party, what is your personal view on this. Would you be happy for example to send your child to a school where a teacher dressed with the Niqab and the full veil, would that be something you'd be comfortable with? Is that right?

MING CAMPBELL: The only thing that would concern me was the effectiveness of the teaching. I think we should all be allowed - I mean you and I, we're doing it today.

We're wearing what we think is right. We should all be allowed to do that. But if it stands in the way of the carrying out of our responsibilities to our pupils or our patients or something of that kind then I think ..

HUW EDWARDS: Is it a barrier?

MING CAMPBELL: .. different considerations apply.

HUW EDWARDS: Do you consider it a barrier?

MING CAMPBELL: It can, it could well be a barrier. I'm not sure I would find it a barrier in my constituency surgery, but I certainly think were I a patient being treated by a doctor I might find it a barrier.

And that's why I think you have to look at the circumstances in which people are exercising responsibility and say well is this something which will stop them exercising that responsibility properly.

HUW EDWARDS: And just in the specific instance here, you are, are you saying that you are comfortable with the thought that she can teach dressed like that?

MING CAMPBELL: I'm not comfortable with the thought that in teaching she may not be able to teach as effectively as, as ..

HUW EDWARDS: Because of it.

MING CAMPBELL: .. she ought to because of that. And I think, I understand that within the convention relating to dress then there are exceptions made for those circumstances in which dress would stop someone fulfilling their obligations.

HUW EDWARDS: Okay, I want to move on. There are lots of big things in your inbox, I know that. One of them is party funding.

There is, you've got a bit of a problem at the moment with a big donation from a man who's now in prison. No question at all that the Party accepted this donation of two and a half million pounds in anything other than good faith.

MING CAMPBELL: Good faith. The electoral commission said that again this week.

HUW EDWARDS: Absolutely. That's totally understood. And yet with hindsight, given what you now know, it may be that the, the donation was not permissible. Now are you preparing to repay it or not?

MING CAMPBELL: Well we've had, taken legal advice, as you will not be surprised to learn. And the legal advice is that we're not obliged to repay it. That is the, that is the present position. The electoral commission has indicated it's looking at these matters again but it not yet issued any demand. And if it does then we will rely on the legal advice ..

HUW EDWARDS: Okay.

MING CAMPBELL: .. that we've been given.

HUW EDWARDS: If it turns out that this company through which the donations were made was not trading in the UK, if that turns out to be the case then the donation as we understand it would not be permissible.

And in that sense, if circumstances change, you might find yourself having to repay it. Is that, is that something that you are at least preparing for?

MING CAMPBELL: Well your hypothesis - I'm putting my legal hat on now - is a question of mixed fact and law. I'm not going to get into that.

All I can say is that as you rightly say, this was accepted in good faith. It was spent on the purposes for which it was given. No preferment was asked for ..

HUW EDWARDS: No, no.

MING CAMPBELL: Nor was it given.

HUW EDWARDS: No, no.

MING CAMPBELL: And our legal advice is that we are not obliged to repay it.

HUW EDWARDS: Well let me turn it round then and say what would it mean for your party if you did have to repay that. Let's just ask it in those terms.

MING CAMPBELL: Our party has been in existence, what, for the best part of a hundred and fifty years. We'd go on being in existence.

HUW EDWARDS: I mean it would mean a big financial hole. There's no question about that. Everybody would understand that.

MING CAMPBELL: Well I mean even, even BBC presenters like yourself would find it difficult to find two point four million. Look, if this issue comes up we'll deal with it.

HUW EDWARDS: Yeah, okay. Well I mean I'm just surprised that you're not at least prepared to say if it happens we've got a problem. I mean everybody would understand that.

MING CAMPBELL: Well all political parties have got financial problems in present circumstances. Everyone knows and understands that.

HUW EDWARDS: Okay.

MING CAMPBELL: That's why the debate's taking place about state funding.

HUW EDWARDS: Of course.

MING CAMPBELL: But what I say to you, confidently, is that we will survive.

HUW EDWARDS: You won't be asking your members for thirty three pounds each I think the figure was?

MING CAMPBELL: I don't think it will come to that.

HUW EDWARDS: Okay. The environment. A very big issue for you. David Cameron this week again is going to be announcing some new policies. What is your main thrust on this now, given that the Tories seem to have come on to your terrain really in terms of looking at big tax rises in some circumstances to deal with climate change?

MING CAMPBELL: Well an old American political expression, where's the beef? Cos it's not enough to say there's a problem and to say we must do something about it. What are you willing to do about it?

And just a few weeks ago in Brighton at our Party Conference we indicated what we were willing to do in relation to the proportion of taxation that environmental taxes should form. I mean at the moment that's, that's gone down under this government. In relation to dealing with the problem of aviation, in relation to dealing with the problem of motor car transport and the fact that the escalator is no longer effective.

Now these are hard choices. And to be absolutely blunt people will find that they have an effect on their daily lives. But if we're going to deal with this problem, highlighted in the report which is foreshadowed in all the newspapers today, then there will have to be hard choices. I mean up till now the environmental debate's been joined what on moral and scientific grounds. Now it's been joined on economic grounds.

Up to twenty per cent of GDP of industrialised countries like this. Think of the enormous economic impact that would have. And think also of the fact that environmental change of course affects poorer countries more than any other. And if you think of Africa being subject to yet more environmental change, think of the consequences for population dispersal, immigration, things of that kind. We have absolutely no option but to deal with the problem of climate change and nothing but hard choices will do it.

HUW EDWARDS: Sir Menzies, thank you very much for coming in. Good to see you.

MING CAMPBELL: Pleasure.

HUW EDWARDS: Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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