Hain explains idea of 'national conversation'

26 November 2003
The Leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, has explained the idea behind the 'national conversation' in which the Government is to consult on the issues which most affect the future of Britain.

The idea of the national conversation came on the day the Queen's Speech in which the Government's policies for the coming year were outlined.

Speaking on BBC Two's 'Newsnight,' Mr. Hain said: "We want to consult people, we want to know what the answer is to how you fund higher education. If the answer is that people honestly want to pay more taxes as the Liberal Democrats believe, then we have to take account of that."

"We will listen to people's views very carefully."

He continued: "To distinguish between what is in the Queen's Speech, which includes the higher education bill and how you fund that, and the long term future of the country, if you want to discuss seriously the long term future of the country, which is what this big dialogue and conversation is about, then let's do that."

"Let's consider for example an ageing society. How do we fund pensions? How do we fund a situation where fewer and fewer people are in work? Should we make an element of pensions compulsory or not? How do we deal with road congestion? Do we consider more congesting charging?"

Mr. Hain insisted that these were 'big questions facing the country.'

He suggested: "If people asked us to re-nationalise the railways we would take a very deep breath and listen carefully, but I do not think anyone is going to say that seriously. Let us just pause and see what we are doing. No government has ever engaged in this kind of consultation."

"Why? Because we know what we are doing over the next year: it has been laid out in the Queen's Speech and a very exciting and radical Queen's Speech it is. I think when people look at what is in it they will look at that."

Mr. Hain argued: "But then we have got to look at the next decade ahead, the big global pressures, the threat of terrorism, the threat of congestion at home. How do we deal with our road network?"

"How do we turn our NHS around from being a very expensive hospital based service to actually preventative medicine with people looking at their diet and looking at all sorts of ways of making sure their own health can be improved. These are the big questions facing us."

Mr. Hain maintained: "We have to listen to the majority on issues providing they were carefully argued and so. I do think a very important point is that one of the problems we have hit as a Government is that some of the policies we have introduced have not been based on proper consultation inside the party or actually outside."

"They have been put forward for very good reasons, but they have not been based on consultation. So this conversation could actually alter Government policy."

He concluded that it was a 'conversation about the future of the country and how we can seize the future.'