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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
William Hague quizzed

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In the first of News Online's election broadcasts with the party leaders, William Hague answered your questions.

The BBC's Political Editor, Andrew Marr, put questions sent in by users to Mr Hague on issues such as Northern Ireland, Labour's tax policy, Europe and refugees.

If you wish to put your questions to Charles Kennedy, click here. To ask Tony Blair click here.


Transcript:


Andrew Marr:

We start with a question from Mark R, Cambridge, UK: You spend most of your time rubbishing the Government. Do you have anything positive to say about them or are they 100% bad?


William Hague:

Well Mark, they are not 100% bad - they have done some good things. One of the good things they have done is to carry on the work for peace in Northern Ireland; which they carried on from John Major. I have had my differences with them about that - I didn't think they should have let out the terrorists when they hadn't given up their weapons. But I basically support the work they have been doing and we would want to carry that on in government.

So I don't think they are all bad but I do think they have been doing a lot of damage to the country and I am not spending my whole election campaign rubbishing them. I am setting out my policies to hit crime hard, to bring down petrol taxes and to keep the pound.


Andrew Marr:

Our next question is from Robin Cavan, Northern Ireland: I would like you to explain how Conservative policy to have a hugely reduced income from direct taxation along with smaller contributions from the very well-off can benefit the poorer in our society. Can you please explain?


William Hague:

We are not proposing tax reductions - we are not proposing big tax reductions for the well-off , as you describe it. Actually the people who would benefit most from our tax changes are less well-off people. They are the people who have been really clobbered by petrol tax going up, by the removal of the tax allowances on marriage and mortgages and so on.

So I actually want to give some money back to less well-off people. An example of that is that we would abolish taxes on savings but not for people at the highest rate of tax - it would be people with small amounts of savings who got the benefit. So I really want to give some money back to the less well-off people who have been clobbered by stealth taxes over the last four years.


Andrew Marr:

The next question is from John in London: Why should I as a single person subsidise you and Ffion just because I don't fall into your view of what is morally correct?


William Hague:

I am not asking you to subsidise me and Ffion because we wouldn't be eligible for the new allowance that I am proposing. I am saying that our society should send some signal of support for people trying to bring up children. We are therefore proposing to extend the children's tax credit which would go to everybody with children under five irrespective of whether they were married or not and to help married couples with young children under eleven where one of them is staying at home to look after their children.

I do think it is important to send a signal of support to marriage and I think many people who are not married agree with that because most children who grow up in stable families are in married families and it is important for our society that there are successful marriages. So let's help people at a time of life where they are often short of money and on a very tight budget.


Andrew Marr:

Our next question is from Geoff Littlefield, Guildford, Surrey: Why do you and your party persist in peddling the untruth that Labour has promised not to raise taxes at the last election when in fact they pledged not to raise income tax? This was made crystal clear and no responsible party could ever promise not to raise any taxes. Why do you continue to do this?


William Hague:

Well they did promise not to raise any taxes - it is all set out in black and white. We have the date and everything where Tony Blair said in 1995 that the Labour Party wouldn't raise taxes at all and he went on to say it several more times in a different form. He said the programme of the Labour Party does not require any tax rises.

So the reason we keep challenging him on this is because he said all this at the last election and it wasn't just about income tax. He made these commitments about no tax rises at all and then he found every possible stealthy, crafty, cunning way of raising people's taxes - on their petrol, their pension, their marriage, their mortgage - so I think we are justified in giving him a hard time about it this time around.


Andrew Marr:

Now onto a subject I know that you want to concentrate on in the coming days - Europe and the euro. The first question is from Colin Bryant in Sheffield: I understand you want to be in Europe but not ruled by Europe. How can you be in an organisation without abiding by the rules? Would you accept MPs and party members who wanted to be in the Conservative Party but not ruled by it?


William Hague:

Well yes I certainly do - I think there one or two good examples of that. How can you be in an organisation without abiding by the rules - I am not suggesting that we break the rules of the European Union, I am saying we shouldn't keep signing up to more and more rules that we don't want to have. We should draw a line. We should say - right we are in Europe and we are going to make the most of being in the European Union and we are going to remain in the European Union but we are not going to agree to give away more and more of our rights and powers.

It is possible to be in a club without having to eat all the same meals as everybody else all the time - that is the difference. You can be in a club and abiding by the rules but not do exactly the same as all the other members on every issue. So I want us to have that flexibility and that freedom and to basically remain a self-governing nation and I think that is at stake in this election.


Andrew Marr:

The next question is from Martin Sinclair, Taunton, Somerset: Where is Kenneth Clarke?


William Hague:

Kenneth Clarke is working very hard in his constituency in Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire and he is campaigning hard in neighbouring marginal seats. So he is doing his bit for the party and I appreciate that.


Andrew Marr:

Moving on now to immigration and asylum. Paul Ashmore, Loughborough: Don't those fleeing persecution in their homeland have a right to expect to be treated better than quarantined animals on arrival in the UK? Also surely Conservatives should applaud those economic migrants who get on their bike to look for work and a better life in Britain? Isn't this entirely in line with Conservative values?


William Hague:

Refugees and economic migrants - now lets look at both of those things. Yes, we should welcome the genuine refugees to Britain - we must always provide a home for the genuine refugees. Unfortunately, it is the genuine refugees who are elbowed aside at the moment and lost in the system because the system has become so chaotic and it is much harder for those people because the people is being abused and there is a great racket going on. There is a great multi-billion pound trade in human beings going on.

Economic migrants - those people, yes we have got to respect those people - they want to move for good reasons; for themselves and their families. But I don't know of anyone who thinks that we can just have unlimited movement around the world and that we can accept unlimited numbers of people into this country - or any country. So there has to be some rules and they have to be observed. All I am saying is that let's make sure the rules are observed and that we accept immigration into Britain but that we don't accept abuse of the asylum system for purposes different from what it was designed for.


Andrew Marr:

Steve Hunt, Farnham: How does Mr Hague intend to pay for the internment of all those seeking political asylum?


William Hague:

Well I think it would save money and the Labour Party themselves seem to think it would save money. They have created one reception centre for asylum seekers so far. That is at Oakington in Cambridgeshire. It cost about 6 million to convert for this purpose. The Government say that this will save them 30 in income support and in the benefit costs of supporting asylum seekers.

So even they think it saves money and of course if we deterred unfounded asylum applications by having a stricter system then that would also reduce the numbers involved. So I think being straightforward about this and being tough about this would reduce the cost to the taxpayer.


Andrew Marr:

Andrew Torrence, Edinburgh: Having just watched your first election broadcast, I am a little confused. You say that 1,100 of over 30,000 released early have reoffended - just over 3.1% - and yet 57% of all offenders reoffend. This shows that someone who is released early is eighteen times less likely to reoffend on your own figures. Why scrap early release?


William Hague:

You are not comparing with apples with apples there I am afraid. That is the number of offences by these people when they are out on early release and they are out on a special early release. Of course they also go on to offend again, probably in larger numbers at a later stage. So this is not a lower reoffending rate, this is just the offences they commit at that particular time. If you included all the offences they committed later then of course the number would be much larger. The true comparison is that those 1,100 offences are committed whereas if they weren't on special early release the number would be zero because they would still be in prison - that is the true comparison.


Andrew Marr:

Right onto education. Neil Kelly, Huddersfield: As a student studying at Huddersfield University how will higher education benefit through your planned endowment initiative for universities? What degree of investment will this endowment secure in real terms and will this investment be for the course of the whole parliament?


William Hague:

Yes it will Neil. What this would mean would be giving universities a block of money when the Treasury gets a windfall gain - for instance from selling mobile phone licences last year when suddenly the Treasury got 22 billion. We would use money like that - instead of repaying the National Debt - we would give it to the universities and say right you have got your money but now you can decide what to do with it.

That would mean that we have freed them from government controls and government spending restrictions. So if they wanted to go out and buy the world-class professor - the top professor in a particular subject, they could do it. If they wanted to spend money on a particular building - they could do it. If they wanted more students on a particular course - they could do it. They would be free from government restrictions. I think that would help our universities to compete with the best in the world in the coming years. American universities have big endowments - we have got to be as farsighted in endowing our universities.


Andrew Marr:

Now onto Bernard North, Sutton, Surrey and who is clearly a rail traveller. He says your party has announced its plan for a 6p a litre reduction in petrol costs. Given that train and bus fares in 1995 to 1999 rose 30% more than motoring costs, will you pledge massive reductions on our crippling train fare burden? Or do rail commuters - the fine upstanding citizens who have simply had enough - have to resort to mob rule and blackmail that you endorsed during the fuel protest last year?


William Hague:

Well I haven't endorsed any mob rule and I certainly wouldn't do so by anybody. Now I can't promise that immediately there will be great reductions in the price of travelling around on the railways. But I do think that the investment coming into the railways now - and that is coming in over the next few years - does give the opportunity for these services to improve .

The ideas that we have put forward on the London Underground and transferring the ownership to Transport for London and making a no-strike agreement would also improve the quality of public transport in the capital. So we have got good ideas on public transport. What I am trying to get away from is the idea that persecuting the motorist helps public transport and puts people onto public transport - it doesn't - it just makes it harder for everybody to get about.


Andrew Marr:

Finally on the same theme, Tom Simons, Bristol: Wouldn't it be wiser to invest in public transport more rather cut fuel tax? Surely an enlightened, modern government should seek to reduce the blight of traffic congestion rather than encourage it?


William Hague:

Well we should but don't think that increasing petrol prices reduces traffic congestion. We have just had the fastest increase of petrol prices that we have ever had in this country but the number of car journeys has gone up by 10% - it is more expensive for everybody - it hasn't reduced the number of car journeys. So we have to do both.

We will maintain the plans of the Labour Party for investment in public transport. In fact we invested more in the transport network overall - more public money - over our last ten years in government than they plan to do so in their 10 year plan. So we will maintain those plans. But we do believe that we have shown how it is possible to reduce the cost of petrol at the same time. We have got to keep improving all forms of transport in a small country with a lot of people in it.

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