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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 March 2007, 11:33 GMT
Tory travel policy
On Sunday Sunday 11 March, Andrew Marr interviewed Kenneth Clarke MP

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

Kenneth Clarke MP
Kenneth Clarke MP

ANDREW MARR: Thank you for coming in Ken.

KENNETH CLARKE: Morning Andrew. Glad to be here.

ANDREW MARR: Can I, can I start off by talking about that House of Lords, that House of Lords vote.

You've always been a hundred per cent "elect them" man but do you think that given the inevitable hostility of the Second Chamber itself and the, the mixed motives of some of those who were voting would ever get to a hundred per cent elected?

KENNETH CLARKE: Well I've never expected to get a hundred per cent.

So I was surprised by the big vote for that.

But I would be prepared to settle for say eighty per cent. And actually David Cameron, Ming Campbell and Gordon Brown all voted with me for an eighty per cent elected chamber so it could be the beginning of an historic change.

It all really comes down to Gordon Brown and what Gordon Brown will do and how a handle, the obvious desire to have an elected Upper House in the House of Commons.

The House of Lords will vote flatly against it. This week they regard their present Upper House as the model of perfection for all legislatures. And they will defend their present position, probably want an all appointed house.

But I don't think you can appoint legislators by a quango. And I want to see a more powerful parliament and I think a more powerful Upper House would need the legitimacy of being elected. It's the only, it's the only real basis for political power in the modern world.

ANDREW MARR: Of course any prime minister has second thoughts about a more powerful parliament. You know Gordon Brown. Do you, in your bones do you think he will press this?

KENNETH CLARKE: Well I think he always has been in favour of reforming the House of Lords. And I actually think he'll have difficulty getting out of it. I mean what ... excuse does he have, having got to this point and having voted for it himself to say well I'm of course not so sure and we'll put it off and perhaps it'll be the next parliament. The, the present state of the House of Lords is very Gilbert and Sullivan. I mean it's absurd.

We just keep having bi-elections where hereditary voters vote for hereditary peers to fill a vacancy and we do have a crisis in government because government is not properly accountable to parliament and we're losing public confidence. And so I think Gordon will find it difficult to put it back into the long grass.

And actually he might be tempted to do it cos it will make him the democratic reformer. It will put a distance between him and Tony Blair's awful presidential sofa style government. It will make clear that there'll be no cash for honours under Gordon Brown. So I don't go along with the view that necessarily Gordon will ditch it. It might ..

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

KENNETH CLARKE: .. be a way of showing he's a new broom prime minister to go ahead with it. Sooner or later we need to have an Upper House of Parliament that isn't a rather laughable anomaly like the one we've got.

ANDREW MARR: One, one thing a lot of people say is we've already got enough elected politicians. We don't want another huge house of elected politicians. When it gets to an elected Second Chamber, whatever it's called - I don't know, a Senate or something I suppose - do you think it should be a great deal smaller than what we've got at the moment?

KENNETH CLARKE: I think it should be smaller than it's got at the moment. I think the government's proposing five hundred and forty. It's fairly arbitrary. I think the House of Commons probably should be rather smaller than it is at the moment.

The only sadness I have when I say that is you will have more professional politicians if you do that. We are moving away from the world in which more people usually have some experience and contact with the outside world. And maybe that's necessary but it will be a pity if our Senate has fewer senators. It needs fewer than the present number of peers we have. And is surrounded by staffers and all the rest of it.

And becomes like a sort of fully professional political entity in which everybody's living slightly in an unreal world of their own. But I don't see much choice about that. The public don't like professional politicians and then they get very, very cross if the politicians aren't professional and somehow have come from somewhere outside or are doing something else alongside being an MP.

ANDREW MARR: One of your other big causes running this democracy task force is the English question. Can you explain to us how you think it would be possible to remove Scottish and Welsh MPs for, from England only legislation without there being confusion at some time as to who is the government of the land?

KENNETH CLARKE: Well I, we haven't got round to that in any detail yet. But I, I don't understand quite why the British get so excited about it. We, we do assume our elections produce a one party monopoly for the next five years on government. Now if of course you had members of parliament who weren't able to vote on English questions it is conceivable that one day you'll have a United Kingdom government that doesn't have a majority in England.

And that means people like the Secretary of State for Health, the Secretary of State for Education would have to deal with the English members of parliament and perhaps discuss with their opponents what they could do and what they couldn't do. And handle matters in a rather more parliamentary way. Other countries are quite used to having ministers who don't have an automatic parliamentary majority. It happens all the time in the United States. It happens in a lot of continental countries.

And I think we get wildly excited. But I do think, I mean I, I don't vote on Scottish matters, I don't vote on Welsh matters where they're devolved to the Welsh Assembly. I don't feel that I'm a second class member of parliament. My constituents couldn't care less actually that I don't vote ..

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

KENNETH CLARKE: .. about education in Perth. And it doesn't seem to me that it is quite the crucial question that some of the people are saying.

ANDREW MARR: All right.

KENNETH CLARKE: Though of course we've got to work out how you handle a situation where Scottish MPs no longer vote on things that have nothing to do with their constituencies or their constituents.

ANDREW MARR: Former chancellor, what do you make of the idea of shifting taxes towards green issues and in specific terms how as an MP would you sell the idea to your constituents that they could only have one holiday abroad flying?

KENNETH CLARKE: I don't think that is proposed. What I, what I, well I'm not working on taxes for the Conservative Party so I, I actually I think I'll wait to see what these proposals actually are. They have been leaked or have leaked in an extremely untidy fashion so I'll wait and see. I've no objection to green taxes. Indeed I defend my own record. I introduced the landfill tax to stop waste being put into landfill. And to try and encourage more environmentally friendly ways of disposing of it. I let the people avoid the tax if they spent the money instead on environmental... measures.

Gordon turned it all into revenue for the Treasury. But I mean I don't think ... mind air travel being taxed because every other form of travel is taxed and it should bear its fair share and a proportion of air travellers are better off than the average. But you have to go an enormous level before you start reversing the growth in air travel. And I think some of the growth in air travel's very good. I mean I thank that young people can now tour the world. Makes me envious. But I think it's a very important social revolution.

ANDREW MARR: ...

KENNETH CLARKE: But I'll wait and see what my Party's actually having a look at. I don't think anybody's proposing anything at the moment.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Thank you. Patrick Mercer. Fellow Nottinghamshire MP. Kicked out for what he said about black soldiers in the army. Almost every paper and columnist seems to think it's political correctness and just silly.

KENNETH CLARKE: Well look, first of course they're all denouncing Patrick and I don't think David had any choice but to ask him to resign. When you look at what Patrick said he didn't say anything particularly sensational. I'm sure it's an accurate description of what went on in the army. But the, the, he, he was not condoning racialism. He is not racialist. I can tell you that cos I know him very well.

He's my political next door neighbour and I've known him for a long time. He's not remotely racialist. He made the mistake that we've all made - I've made it myself occasionally - of just going on when chatting to a reporter, making a factual description of the army and then finding everybody was denouncing him for sounding very insensitive ..

ANDREW MARR: ...

KENNETH CLARKE: .. about some of the phrases used in parliament.

ANDREW MARR: Given what you say it's absurd that he was sacked wasn't it?

KENNETH CLARKE: Well the, otherwise we'd have spent - the Sunday newspapers which you're, you know we're all looking through now ... actually tell us anything we didn't already know would have been absolutely full of racialist comments by our homeland security spokesman.

I think if I'd been in David's position I'd have said look Patrick you have put this in a rather unwise and foolish way. I think you're going to have to resign. I trust that Patrick will be on the back benches for a bit and then he'll come back when the whole dust has blown over. I would give him the advice that President Truman is said to have always given to politicians "Never trust a smiling reporter" and we all get into trouble occasionally.

And if we look at what he said, there's nothing that Patrick said actually which is remotely offensive or racialist. He perhaps just shouldn't have gone on quite like that with a certain lack of care. And David was quite right to take him ..

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

KENNETH CLARKE: .. off the front bench otherwise we'd have all been talking about racialism for the next week and there isn't any I trust in the Conservative Party.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Well from this smiling reporter, thank you very much indeed for coming in.

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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