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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Andrew Lansley quizzed

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Andrew Lansley, the Conservative cabinet member, is one of those responsible for drawing up the manifesto and he will be answering your questions online today, Monday 14 May.

It was Andrew Lansley who played a major role in the Conservatives "Common Sense Revolution" and also in their campaigns on Europe, tax and the pound, law and order and other areas such as transport and the environment.

Andrew Lansley has answered your questions about the Conservatives and this election.


Highlights of interview:


Paul Whittaker, Luton:

My concerns as a voter reflect those of many people. In Luton, schooling is poor, local NHS services deteriorating and crime is increasing rapidly. I would say forget about Europe and forget about taxes. What the majority of people want to hear is a real solution to everyday problems such as schools, hospitals and crime. What are the Conservatives proposing to do to sort out these problems and will other services suffer as a result?


Andrew Lansley:

We have been clear where we will reform public expenditure and it doesn't include any reduction in the planned increases in expenditure on schools, hospitals and police.

However, the issue really is what can we do that no only get money into those services but make sure that that money is used more effectively and the results come through.

In hospitals it is quite clear we need to treat the patients that are the most ill first. For those who have the most harrowing diseases such as cancer and heart disease, we want consultants in hospitals to be able to give them guaranteed waiting times for treatment.

In schools, I think many teachers will say that the increase in bureaucracy over the last few years has been adding to their workload and reducing morale. Teachers are leaving the profession and we have a crisis in supply of teachers. So cutting the bureaucracy on teachers is one of our first imperatives.

Where the police are concerned - we know what has happened - there are fewer police. Labour cut the number of police and now violent crime is rising. It is not the complete answer, but the first step is to reverse Labour's cut in police numbers.


Newshost:

But all of this will cost money and people will be confused when they hear you talking about your plans to make 8 billion worth of tax cuts over the next parliament - that is over the next five years.


Andrew Lansley:

That is over a three year period. Labour were planning an increase of 73 billion in public expenditure - we are proposing an increase of about 65 billion. So people can see that of course there is an increase in public expenditure - a very sizeable increase - but the point is to get it into the key public services and cut out some of the things which people wonder why there money is being spent on that. For example, in the benefit system where there is too much fraud - we need to cut out fraud. Also where people could work but aren't going to work but are claiming benefit. So people who can work must work.

Also in bureaucracy, Labour have increased the cost of just simply running Whitehall departments by over 2 billion. We need to make sure that the cost of administration stays low and we bring it back to the level that we left a few years ago. People in business know that year on year, very often they have to reduce their administrative overheads - not this government - they have put it up by 2 billion. We need to deal with that.


Newshost:

Whenever we talk to Labour ministers about spending and there are criticisms, they always say, that it because for the first two years we had to stick to the Tories' spending plans. Aren't you criticising your own plans from four or five years ago?


Andrew Lansley:

Well no, because what Labour did was immediately to have some of the wrong priorities. Labour began to increase the cost of administration more or less straight away - that wasn't in our plans. Now with the global total - yes, they did adopt our global total - but they were extremely bad at getting the money into the frontline services. What began to happen was there were a lot of pointless schemes going on in other departments. So we do want to make sure that the money gets to hospitals, schools and the police.


Graham, Scotland:

How would a Conservative government ensure that decisions affecting the UK are made in the UK and stop the EU interfering?


Andrew Lansley:

Graham touches on a very serious issue because it is not that we don't want issues to be discussed or debated or indeed decided upon in the European Union. Indeed it is in our interest to have free trade in the European Union, so we want some of those trade issues to be discussed there and we want to be able to trade across borders.

Another example would be the environment - if you are living in Scotland you are possibly very concerned about the pollution in the North Sea - it is impossible for us to make unilateral decisions about controlling pollution in the North Sea. We need to get together, not only the European Union but also with Norway in order to debate those things - so we do want to work co-operatively. However, what we don't want to do is to allow the European Union simply to extend its powers beyond what we intended was the case back in 1972 when we entered the European Union or in subsequent treaties.

We do have a specific policy for this - it is to establish what is known as reserved powers so that Parliament cannot be overruled by the European Union in areas that it was not intended should be subject to the decisions of the European Union. We have set that out in the manifesto and in previous speeches from William Hague and Francis Maude. I believe it will be one of the issues that people can identify in the coming election - to say thus far and no further in terms of European integration and powers.


Yilmaz Mamedy:

Why won't the Conservative Party hold a referendum on the euro if they form the next government? Surely the British people should decide if we join the single currency or not?


Andrew Lansley:

It is pretty straightforward why we shouldn't have a referendum. If we as a Conservative government have no plans and no intention to enter a single currency - indeed we are committed by mandate to keep the pound - then clearly having a referendum would be to try and secure the public's view on a policy that we are not proposing which would be a constitutional anomaly.

But there is a second reason and this really comes to the heart of why the issue of the currency and the pound is part of this election campaign. It is very difficult to divorce the issue of the pound and our currency from the management of government policy as a whole. It is not something that can be taken out and say that it is an issue on the side - it goes to the heart of economic policy and it has profound constitutional and political implications. Therefore, in our view, a government is elected at a general election on a range of policies and the most important issues should be among those upon which people decide at a general election.


Gary Sercombe, Lichfield, UK:

It astonishes me that the Conservatives can even have the nerve to suggest that they are the party for the pensioner. For 17 years the Tories virtually abandoned pensioners. Can you really expect to be trusted again so soon?


Andrew Lansley:

It is quite clear that over those years - and I don't want to fight the last election - but actually there was a 60% increase in the real terms income of pensioners overall over those years. But that is not the point - the point is what are we proposing now? Well we are proposing a substantial above inflation increase for the basic state pension from April next year.

We have shown how that can be funded and it includes the opportunity for us to make sure that the winter fuel allowance which the Government have talked about in the last few days, was not only available to the current pensioners who receive it but there are over 200,000 elderly pensioners who don't get the winter fuel allowance - often because they are in nursing homes and so on. Now we think that is a very anomalous situation and we think pensioners should be treated equally - they should be treated with dignity and they should have the choice whether to have these as one-off payments or brought into their basic state pension.

As regards the basic state pension, we have a clear commitment in the manifesto to an increase in the basic state pension for next April and this is very important and I think pensioners will be able to look to that with confidence.


Newshost:

We already know that pensioners don't like filling in forms - they don't like bureaucracy - isn't your system simply more bureaucratic by asking them to make choices about what allowances they do and don't want?


Andrew Lansley:

No it is very simple, it is literally a tick in a box - do you want one-off payments some time in the year or do you want it on a weekly basis. People have very different requirements - some people would prefer to have a single payment at some point during the year and other people would prefer to have it in their weekly pension. We think it gives people a bit of respect in that they can make choices so they don't feel so utterly dependent on the government's handouts.


Matthew Barrell, Ryde, Isle of Wight:

What are you going to do about the New Deal?


Andrew Lansley:

Well the New Deal hasn't worked for many of the young unemployed. There has been a sense in which they have been going in and out of training schemes but not necessarily getting lasting jobs.

The New Deal for the young unemployed - the Government speak of it as a employability scheme, they say if they try to help young people with skills and training then perhaps they will be more likely to get jobs. But what young people want in the economy at the moment is the help at getting jobs and getting into work.

So our proposal for Britain Works, which is modelled on a very successful scheme in America, is a work placement scheme because we think then we will help through the contracting to bodies who will help young people get into jobs and giving a direct subsidy to employers to take young people into work, that young people then will acquire the skills in work which will help them to stay in those jobs for a longer period. The incentive to those running the scheme will be to help those young people stay in the jobs because that way they will get paid on results and payment by results tends to work.


Lachlan McLean, Girton, Cambridgeshire:

Will the Conservatives promise not to introduce the excessive "top-up" fees proposed by Oxford and Cambridge?


Andrew Lansley:

Yes we can promise that. As it happens I am the only Conservative member of Parliament who represents either an Oxford or a Cambridge college - I represent a Cambridge college.

Labour, we know, from what David Blunkett has said in the past, are saying no extra top-up fees this side of the election but who knows what might happen afterwards. Well we remember Labour MPs last time round saying no tuition fees and then a matter of weeks later they voted for them.

We can be quite clear about that because our policy for endowments for universities gives us the lever with which to say to universities, you can take these endowments, which will give you a degree of freedom, give you the financial basis on which you can plan for future and raise your standards, but one of the conditions of that is that you don't charge top-up fees. So we have not only got the commitment we have also got the mechanism to enforce it.


Imram Ghory:

Why does the manifesto not give a cost to creating university endowments (which the Association of university Teachers has estimated to be at least 80 billion)?


Andrew Lansley:

To meet the whole cost of the university sector - I think it is more like 60 billion - but it is an enormous sum of money but that is not what we are saying we can do. What we are saying is that progressively we can endow the universities and in the early stages of course it would only be a fraction of that sum.

But underlying the manifesto there are costed proposals and what we estimate is that something in the range of 6 or 7 billion would be able to be achieved through the securitisation of the student loan book. Because we don't have to write off the bad debts at that point on the student loan book that reduces public expenditure by several hundred million pounds. In the hands of universities that money would give them an additional sum each year over and above what they get now and that would enable us to say that you would be free perpetually from that endowment to meet some of your costs therefore they won't need to be met by the Exchequer on a year by year basis.


Harry Hayfield, Aberystwyth, Wales:

I have heard on a number of occasions, Conservatives saying they only need to target a few thousand voters in 180 seats. There are 55 million votes in the UK of which 42 million are cast - if you are true to your word will only 1 million of those voters count and how do you think you can increase the turnout?


Andrew Lansley:

I am standing in a constituency which isn't one of those target seats that people talk about and I can assure everyone that there will be Conservatives who will be knocking on those doors, putting leaflets through letterboxes explaining our policies and that will be happening in every constituency across the country.

Quite often is relatively small numbers of votes in a certain number of constituencies that actually form the difference between who is a government and who is not.


Newshost:

So is your campaign going to be focusing on a handful of seats then?


Andrew Lansley:

Our campaign is about presenting our policies to the electorate everywhere. What of course is very important is to make sure that on the day the people in target seats know that it makes a difference for them to vote. That is true everywhere but I think people need to understand that if they want a Conservative government, if they want to stop Labour putting up their taxes and if they want to stop Labour letting them down again then there will be people in those key seats who have turn out and vote to make it happen.

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