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EDITIONS
Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Liberal Democrats: Webchat with Don Foster
Don Foster, Liberal Democrats' transport spokesman

  • Click here to read the transcript


    Transport is one of the hot issues facing the major parties. Industrial action by members of the RMT and ASLEF unions in a long-running disputes have brought travel chaos to various parts of the country.

    As the party's spokesman on transport, Mr Foster's parliamentary skills will be tested to the full over the next year as he scrutinises the government's attempt to revive the UK's ailing public transport system.

    Don Foster was the man who defeated Conservative chairman Chris Patten to become an MP in 1992 and is seen as one of the party's strongest Commons performers.

    Regarded by others in the party as being very energetic and affable, he immediately made an impact and was appointed education spokesman in the same year.

    In 1999 he stood in the race to replace Paddy Ashdown as leader of the party but withdrew when it beccame clear that Charles Kennedy was most likely to win.

    Mr Foster also speaks for the party on local government issues. On Tuesday at the conference the party rejected compulsory postal voting fearing electoral abuse and vote rigging.

    Can the Liberal Democrats really make a difference in key areas such as transport and other public services? Is there a strong argument for the privatisation of the London Underground?

    The Liberal Democrats' transport spokesman, Don Foster, answered your questions in a live webchat.


    Transcript


    Newshost:

    ANDREW: Isn't a tube strike in the Government's interests at this point? It would provide a political argument for a rise in fares and for the privatisation of the Underground.


    Don Foster:

    The privatisation of the underground proposed by the Government will be a complete disaster and over the railway strikes the unions have behaved irresponsibly. But for the tube strikes both sides are to blame since mediation has failed and we should now seek binding arbitration. But above all the PPP for the tube must be halted for the sake of Londoners.


    Newshost:

    ROB: I'm 17, why should I vote for the Lib Dems at the next election?


    Don Foster:

    The Liberal Democrats are the only party that doesn't just say that young people are the voice of the future. We also say they are the voice of today which is why, for example, we advocate lowering the voting age to 16.


    Newshost:

    CAMERON: Has the Conservative leadership's backing of the PM's position on Iraq, killed off any effective way Parliament can debate the issue?


    Don Foster:

    No. The Tories had the opportunity yesterday to raise many of the concerns of the British people and failed to do so. The Liberal Democrats raised those concerns and already we are seeing the stance of the Government changing so that, for example, they now make clear no immediate action should be taken and, crucially, when action is taken it must be in accordance with international law. But the best way forward if at all possible is by using diplomatic pressure rather than military action.


    Newshost:

    HEATHER: I actually had high hopes for the Lib Dems becoming the second party in the UK until I heard that the youth and student members have voted to lower the age of consent for pornography sales.


    Don Foster:

    Heather is wrong. The conference decided that the issue needed much greater discussion before a decision was made and we have, therefore, decided to look in detail at the issue and I hope Heather will contact us with her views on the subject so that they can be taken into account.


    Newshost:

    MATTHEW: Earlier this year Charles Kennedy said in a Guardian interview that he foresaw the Liberal Democrats saying at the next general election that they were "in favour of lower taxes." Are the liberal Democrats, in principle, in favour of lower taxation?


    Don Foster:

    The Liberal Democrats have no desire to have the level of taxes any higher than they need to be but we are determined that this country should have the high quality public services that it needs and deserves. Unlike any other party we have been honest about our proposals for public services and how they should be paid for before a General Election and not, like Labour after or the Tories, never.


    Newshost:

    TIM: How would the Lib Dems alleviate student hardship and the burden of going to university, compared to Labour and the Tories?


    Don Foster:

    We have already demonstrated in Scotland, where we share power with Labour, how it can be done. We have totally abolished tuition fees and have introduced a fairer system of student support. In Wales, where we also share power with Labour, we have been able to introduce improved levels of student support although the national government prevents tuition fee abolition. The Liberal Democrats are the only party committed to the abolition of tuition fees and the improvement of maintenance support for students.


    Newshost:

    MATTHEW: Do the Liberal Democrats support a new UN resolution that includes the threat of military force if Iraq does not provide the inspectors unfettered access?


    Don Foster:

    Yes.


    Newshost:

    ANDREW: Do you think that the decision has already been made to attack Iraq and the British public is now being subjected to US government propaganda in order to prepare public opinion for what is an inevitability?


    Don Foster:

    I desperately hope not. I hope that diplomacy will succeed but it is crucial that if military action is to be taken, it is not done by countries in isolation, it must be done through the United Nations and with its full authority from a new resolution. It is also important that before action is taken Parliament debates and votes on the issue and that Parliament and the country is provided with clear evidence of a real threat and not just military capability. But yesterday's dossier said much about Iraq's holding of weapons of mass destruction but little or no assessment of the likelihood of them being used.


    Newshost:

    ANTHONY: Technology now exists in prototype form to run cars on hydrogen and other entirely clean fuels. Vested commercial interests are preventing this technology from reaching the public. Will the Lib Dems lead a fight for green cars?


    Don Foster:

    Yes. We already are doing so. There are many new and exciting technologies that can help reduce pollution from vehicles and reduce our use of non-renewable fuels.


    Newshost:

    BILL: I'd like to know where Don stands PERSONALLY on this pornography issue?


    Don Foster:

    Had I been at the vote yesterday, I would have voted as the majority did to have more detailed discussion on the issue. This may seem like sitting on the fence which, generally, I find very uncomfortable but it is a complex issue over which frankly both I and the party have so far given too little thought to.


    Newshost:

    DAVID: When both the Conservatives and Labour start attacking the Lib Dems is that an indication of how much of a threat the Lib Dems pose to their undemocratic two-party domination of British politics?


    Don Foster:

    Undoubtedly it is. Both the other parties will have noted not only our success at the last General Election, our success in last May's local elections but they will have also seen our by-election gains in recent months, our growing position in the opinion polls and will perhaps have noted that it is increasingly the Liberal Democrats who are coming forward with fresh ideas to tackle problems at home and abroad.


    Newshost:

    This is the end of our live chat with Don Foster MP


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