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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 19:10 GMT 20:10 UK
Labour conference: Ask Peter Hain
Peter Hain
Peter Hain, Welsh Secretary and Leader of the Commons, answered your questions from the Labour conference in Bournemouth.

  • Transcript


    This year's Labour conference promises to one of the most difficult faced by Tony Blair and his government.

    Iraq, foundation hospitals and university tuition fees have provoked disquiet among unions and Labour grass roots members.

    What are your views on the state of the government?

    Is the Labour Party drifting? Has confidence in the government been lost?

    You put your questions to the Welsh Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons Peter Hain, in a LIVE interactive forum from Bournemouth.



    Transcript

    Paul Wilenius:
    Hello, I'm Paul Wilenius and welcome to this News interactive forum. We're here in Bournemouth at the Labour Party conference. We've been hearing Chancellor Gordon Brown this morning speaking about the economy and Labour values and we're here now with the Leader of the House and Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, and we're going to ask some of these questions that have been coming in from your messages on e-mail.

    Now Peter the first questions we've got are about Iraq. Now Timothy Johnson is asking you: Why can't we have a full judicial inquiry into Britain's war in Iraq rather than the Hutton inquiry, which has quite distinct and limited aims and the circumstances leading to the death of Dr Kelly?

    Peter Hain:
    Well the Hutton inquiry has been pretty full. The aims may have been relatively limited but just about everything's been covered there. And frankly that together with the foreign affairs committee inquiry in the House of Commons and the intelligence and security committee inquiry this has been pretty well done to death.

    Paul Wilenius:
    Well Ozorek, he's from the UK, says: What excuse is there for not having a full judicial inquiry, if you've gone for the Hutton inquiry why not?

    Peter Hain:
    Well for exactly the reason I've just explained. In the end this comes down to not about inquiries or not having inquiries - we've had more inquiries than frankly we could ever have imagined in this. What it comes down to is whether you think the government was right or whether you think the government was wrong. And for example those who now say we should pull out I just say if we pulled out now what would happen? Saddam would be back, the Iraqis would be under tyranny again, instead of being in a position of reconstructing their country and going for full self-government and the opportunities to create a democratic Iraq for the first time as long as anybody can remember.

    Paul Wilenius:
    Now there's a different take on this from Graeme Phillips of Germany and the UK, obviously travels around: I am convinced that invading Iraq was the right decision. However, I think the Labour government has handled the affair spectacularly badly, mainly due to spin. What does the government plan to do to increase its honesty so that I won't have to resort to tactical voting in the next election?

    Peter Hain:
    Well I think everybody - you included - have to make a decision as to whether you want a government that is going to keep full employment, keep the record public investment, pursue human rights policies abroad and pursue social justice at home or whether you go back to the Tories - that's a very clear choice. If you vote tactically you take a vote away from the Labour Party, away from getting a Labour government and you let the Tories back in through the back door. So I understand the issue about Iraq and I'm glad that that support for the government is coming. I think we just need to get all this spin stuff in perspective. I mean the media is spinning massively, yes I think the government's spun in the past, I don't think we're doing so anymore but let's get back to the issues instead of all this process and spin stuff.

    Paul Wilenius:
    So it is the end of spin is it?

    Peter Hain:
    Well I hope so, I've never been a believer in spin and I think spin, whether it's from journalists - BBC or newspapers - or whether it's from politicians, gets in the way of the public making their own minds up about the facts and the issues rather than all the intervening spin in the middle.

    Paul Wilenius:
    Now we have another e-mail here from Malcolm Blackie, that's from the UK: No one wants Saddam back but we and you know that the reasons given for getting him out were seriously flawed. The outcome is that it is evident that the only way to stop being bullied/thrashed if your face doesn't fit with the Bush/Blair vision is to go nuclear. This is the idea that North Korea/Iran/Pakistan and India they've got nuclear weapons and nobody touches them.

    Peter Hain:
    Well Saddam Hussein was in a unique position Malcolm in terms of invading two of his neighbours - Iran and Kuwait - using chemical weapons on the Kurds in the north and the Iranians alongside him. He's the only tyrant compared with others who's done that and that was the fundamental reason for the action that took place. And the fact that he's now gone and the fact that Iraq has been liberated from that murderous tyranny - he's the only person to have killed a million Muslims in recent history and possibly ever - I think we should actually thank the fact that he's gone.

    Paul Wilenius:
    There's again a slightly different take on that with an anonymous one: When will you stop the double standards when dealing with Muslim countries and non-Muslim ones? The examples are - you've dealt with Iraq and Palestine, you're not doing the same thing with North Korea and Israel.

    Peter Hain:
    Well North Korea and Israel are very different. I mean Israel, whether you agree with its policies and I very often don't, particularly the Sharon government, and North Korea are very different. The Sharon government in Israel was elected, North Korea's a dictatorship. So we ought to compare like with like. And in terms of our government's attitude towards Muslims and Muslim countries - we intervened in Kosovo against a lot of the same criticism that we've had over Iraq, to stop Muslims being wiped out by Milosevic's genocide and I think we deserve credit for that.

    Paul Wilenius:
    Now moving on to a different issue, really just to show that this broadcast is being watched all over Europe, would you believe, we have Mikko Toivonen from Finland and it's on the euro: Isn't it time for Labour to return to its peaceful roots instead of the current pro-war and caterpillar policies? Is it not time for the UK and especially Labour to return to its European ranks where they belong and where they are appreciated not used?

    Peter Hain:
    Well we are in Europe's ranks, we're right at the heart of Europe and we're a leading European power under our Labour government and we intend to remain there and we want to see Europe playing a progressive role in the world rather than just being the largest trading bloc and the richest economic bloc and the biggest donor of overseas aid. We want to see Europe really pressing home the case for human rights, international justice, trade justice, lifting debt off poor countries and ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction. But to do that Europe has to be much more serious about its foreign policy.

    Paul Wilenius:
    And there's some people again keen to see a euro referendum - Gordon Hayward in England: We've had six years of delay in calling the referendum on the euro. Why can't politicians understand that the main issue is to establish if the people of the UK want the currency. In the event of the yes vote the job of politicians is to take the result and make a decision as to when.

    Peter Hain:
    Well we will do that when the economic circumstances are right but I'm sure Gordon doesn't really think we should just go into it with our eyes closed. We should call a referendum when the economic circumstances are right, when our convergence between our economy and the rest of the European economies is in the right place and we'll do that when the time is right. And I think we'll win a referendum when the time is right but not beforehand because I wouldn't advocate a yes vote in a referendum now, I wouldn't advocate one unless the economic circumstances were right, which they aren't yet.

    Paul Wilenius:
    But Gordon is asking when is the date of this referendum, when is the time going to be right?

    Peter Hain:
    The date of the referendum and the time will be right when the economic circumstances are right. As Gordon Brown said in his statement in June, we've made rapid progress in the last six years, we've converged much, much more with the European economies but we need further convergence to take place because otherwise going in could disadvantage Britain, going in, in the right circumstances would enormously strengthen the British economy.

    Paul Wilenius:
    And there's a question here on enlargement, obviously the European Union is growing from 15 to 25. John Jones of the UK: Do you think it is right that small relatively poor countries, such as Latvia, should be allowed to join the EU?

    Peter Hain:
    Well John I do. Countries like Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania - right the way down - Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and so on - Slovenia - were countries under the Soviet oppression. They've been liberated from that and they are the ones who are anxious to join with the rest of Europe, reunifying Europe after the bitter division of the Cold War and actually bringing Europe together again, they want us to join, we want them in because we want a Europe together, not divided by the old iron curtain or the remnants of it.

    Paul Wilenius:
    Now one of your roles is obviously as Welsh Secretary, I've got questions here about the unity of the UK. Jo Salmon of Wales said: Peter, how can you talk about the unity of the Labour Party when the Scottish and Welsh parties are taking a completely approach to the problems of tuition fees, student debt and the new threat of top up fees? Surely it's time for Labour in Westminster to start listening to Cardiff and Edinburgh.

    Peter Hain:
    Well the purpose of devolution, and nobody fought harder for it than I did in Wales and was organising the campaign in 1997, was to allow different policies to be developed and implemented to suit Wales's interest and Scotland's interest, which weren't always the same as England's interests. Now in the case of top of fees and student fees it'll be very, very difficult for any university, anywhere in the United Kingdom, to avoid a new variable fee regime if it's implemented in England, it really will because otherwise how do Cardiff University and Edinburgh and so on get the kind of money that'll be coming in to English universities? And just on the issue, remember what we're doing is redistributing the opportunity from not just wealthier students who can easily pay fees or whose parents can to those who can't. In two ways: one, poorer students will not pay any fees and secondly, you'll only pay them back once you're working - afterwards, in other words, earning a decent amount of money, it'll be coming out of your pay system every month with a monthly check off and I think that's the fair way to do it, rather than load it on parents up front which is what we want to change.

    Paul Wilenius:
    Time for a couple more questions, one of which is from Martin Curtis in England saying: Obviously you've got problems getting your activists out, we've seen some of the problems that they have, the worries they have about the party at the moment, what are you going to do to try and reactivate your activists?

    Peter Hain:
    All parties are facing this problem but I agree we're facing it in the Labour Party. I want our activists to be encouraged to take part because the issues now are very stark. This is the biggest challenge, this is the hardest time for our Labour government in the last seven years and unless we come together we know that what you get is a Tory government, it's as simple as that. And I think the party members and party activists ought to be celebrating the government's achievements - from the minimum wage to devolution, we've just been talking about the fact we've got near full employment and are pushing up towards that the whole time and the record investment in public services - compared with going back to the Tories - mass unemployment, cuts in public services, all the right wing policies that we saw under the Tories. That is the choice. And so I understand people's criticisms and differences and the fact that we've made mistakes, we've got some things wrong, we try to learn from that, but in the end if you want a Labour government for full employment and high quality public services the only way you're going to get it is to work for it and vote for it.

    Paul Wilenius:
    One final question from Mike in the UK: Are there any circumstances under which you would ever consider running for the leadership of the Labour Party?

    Peter Hain:
    I've seen people speculating in some kind of infantile way about this. I've been in the Cabinet not even a year, I'm really pleased to be doing these jobs. Let the future take care of itself.

    Paul Wilenius:
    Yes okay, well we'll see what happens in the future, we'll be watching very closely in the next six to nine months.

    Peter Hain:
    Well politics Paul, you can be up one week, down the next week, I don't take any notice of this stuff, I just get on with doing the job.

    Paul Wilenius:
    Well, that's the end of our forum. Thank you very much Peter Hain.




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