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ANY QUESTIONS?
TX: 06/11/09 2000-2050
PRESENTER: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY
PANELLISTS: Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP – former Minister for Europe

Jeremy Hunt MP – Shadow Culture Secretary

Dr Vince Cable MP – Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems & Treasury spokesman

Carol Gould – Journalist and author
FROM: Hartlepool Sixth Form College, Cleveland
DIMBLEBY

Welcome to Hartlepool Sixth Form College in the county of Cleveland. Hartlepool boasts that renowned historically for its steel and shipbuilding industries, it’s undergone a renaissance, not least with its marina which incorporates an historical quay which has become one of the top tourist attractions in the North East. The college is also a beneficiary of a renaissance – a twenty four million pounds rebuilding programme which will surely enhance its already enviable reputation for high academic achievement. On our panel Vince Cable who’s acquired something of a reputation as a seer guru and sage following the fall out from the credit crunch. Latterly though his reputation for sagacity has been subjected to close scrutiny leading some critics to suggest that Mr twinkle toes on the dance floor may have feet of clay. Fair enough?


CABLE

No, not fair at all. Still ...


DIMBLEBY

Jeremy Hunt has made a reputation as Shadow Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport for speaking his mind, certainly in relation to the BBC. He is contemplating ripping up the BBC’s Charter and he would certainly apparently get rid of the present governing body the BBC Trust. True?


HUNT

We certainly want to get rid of the BBC Trust Jonathan. But of course your job will be absolutely safe.


DIMBLEBY

I’ll treat you just the same as every other panellist. [LAUGHS] Caroline Flint also has a reputation for speaking her mind. She was Europe Minister but resigned last June accusing her leader of using women as window dressing and running a two tier government that excluded women from Gordon Brown’s inner circle. It’s also true that your husband’s now up in arms cos he works for you. And under the proposed Kelly plan you’d have to as it were fire him.


FLINT

That’s what they’re suggesting and he’s here tonight.


DIMBLEBY

Oh well we may come onto that with a bit of luck then. Carol Gould was born in the States but has lived in London for nearly, for over thirty years. She’s a filmmaker and writer. Her most recent book Spitfire Girls is a novel set in the Second World War. Carol is the fourth member of our panel. [APPLAUSE] Our first question please.


WELSH

Colin Welsh. What do the panel think the government’s objectives are in our continuing involvement in Afghanistan?


DIMBLEBY

Vince Cable?


CABLE

I don’t know what the government’s objectives are. They’re certainly not clear. And I think that when we, I think the public want an answer to the question which is why our troops who are brave and highly professional are being sent to die in some cases for a government that is deeply corrupt and illegitimate. Cos that’s the position we’re in at the moment. And the reasons that they’ve been given over a period of years have kept changing. To start with it was to get rid of the Al Qaeda and they moved across the border into Pakistan and then it was to set up good, honest government and instead we’ve had governance by drug barons and other corrupt elements. It was then to establish democracy and we’ve now had a fraudulent election. The objectives have kept changing. And the war unfortunately is going very badly. And unless there is absolute clarity about what it is we’re trying to achieve then I think the public mood is going to swing very, very strongly against the war than it already is.


DIMBLEBY

Caroline Flint? [APPLAUSE]


FLINT

Well I think the reasons why with others we’re in Afghanistan is because it’s about our national security. Something like seventy five percent of the terrorist activities in this country in some form or another are linked to the training that has been provided, the influence and the tasking that happens by Al Qaeda in Afghan but also on the borders with Pakistan as well.


DIMBLEBY

You say Afghan but also on the borders. Isn’t the evidence that we’re told that it’s within Afghanistan? It may have been in Afghanistan but it’s now in Pakistan?


FLINT

My understanding is it’s that border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan that is the threat. And that’s why relations with Pal.., Pakistan are important too. The second issue about what we’re trying to achieve is a country where the Afghan government, the Afghan police and the Afghan military can run the country in a stable way so it doesn’t revert back to the narcotic state it still was, and there’s still a problem with opium production in that country, but also will no longer be subject to the influence that Al Qaeda’s been able to bring to that country in terms of its base for its terrorist activities that resulted in nine eleven and other atrocities around the world.


DIMBLEBY

And given that that is, if that is right as the aspiration and Gordon Brown has said that no more UK troops will go in unless the government stands up for corruption, and we’ve had those terrible killings of the British soldiers by a ..


FLINT

Yes.
DIMBLEBY

.. police officer.
FLINT

Yes.
DIMBLEBY

Army mentors who worked with the police saying that these police officers are not anything like police officers that would be recognisable here but that they are, if they’re not on heroin and opium and other substances that they are bought all the time, that they have no training, that they’re loyal to their tribal chiefs et cetera, et cetera. How long do you think it will take to achieve the objective as you describe it?
FLINT

There are huge challenges and some of what you’ve outlined are a consequence of a country which had no stable infrastructure whatsoever, didn’t have a police force as we would recognise it or an army or the institutions that in some ways are part of our common day experience. And changing that around is a tough job. Clearly after what’s happened this week I’m sure there will be questions asked about the personnel that are taken on in terms of policing, if they’re Afghans. And I’m sure they’ll be looking at further security measures. But on a number of different fronts there are successes. Girls get schooling in a way they never did before. We’re seeing hospitals built. We’ve seen in the Helmand Prof.. Province that poppy production, the opium production has gone down enormously and people are moving to more legitimate forms of agriculture. But it is difficult and it takes time. This isn’t a country like anything that we can imagine. And it’s tough.


DIMBLEBY

Do you accept that if it goes on like that and given the public mood and if it continues to be tough and Karzai doesn’t clean up his act and if some security doesn’t return and continues to get worse that the British public will say no and British governments will be obliged to do what the Canadians are promising to do, what the Dutch are promising to do, no longer stay there?


FLINT

I think the Prime Minister Gordon Brown completely understands that. And in his speech today he set five conditions. One of the conditions was about tackling corruption, that Karzai has to do that. Another was that by next year there should be five thousand more Afghan army personnel brought forward. They’ve also said, he’s also said that Karzai has to look to develop better relations with Pakistan for the reasons I’ve outlined earlier and also focus on delivering on a better economy too. He has set that out very clearly today Gordon Brown.


DIMBLEBY

Okay.
FLINT

And I’m sure that’s been taken on board by the public. And of course having set that out Karzai has to deliver.
DIMBLEBY

Do you have a clear picture Carol Gould of what the .. [APPLAUSE] .. a clear picture of what the government’s objectives are?


GOULD

No. I mean what I would like to do is to answer the questioner’s question perhaps from a North American point of view because in the past week President Obama has had some rather bad defeats in local elections. And people are saying that he seems to be frozen in time. Obviously whatever Obama does is going to affect what Britain does. And vice versa. Here’s this huge headline from today’s Telegraph – “Brown, risk of failure in Afghanistan is real”. And in the same edition of today’s Telegraph Con Coughlin whom I usually agree with says that Obama must stop dithering or Afghanistan will be his next Vietnam. But I disagree with Con Coughlin. He’s saying Obama’s got to get these forty thousand troops in there to kind of do something like the surge in Iraq. But actually if it is going to be his next Vietnam what happened – because I lived through it and many of you did – the more troops that were sent the more the Viet Cong reorganised. They seemed like an endless stream of people and I’m afraid the Taliban, the drugs lords and as we’ve all said so far, this corrupt government of, of Karzai is a, is a toxic mix. Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the election and if anybody saw him on television he was in tears. Nobody quite knows what the agenda was but I have a feeling there was something very sinister going on there. And that has added to this toxic mix. I just don’t see any solution. I was all for it but I really think that we are in a terrible quagmire. And that word was used to describe Vietnam for those of us old enough to remember. [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

Jeremy Hunt?


HUNT

Well I think Vince is right. The government needs to do a much better job of explaining the reason why we’re in Afghanistan. It’s all very well Gordon Brown talking as he has today about the risk of failure. But what he needs to spell out much more is the cost of failure and in particular it isn’t just about the collapse of Afghanistan it is about the potential collapse of Pakistan which has nuclear weapons which could potentially mean nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Jihadists. But the reality is when you hear what we heard this week it is totally heartbreaking. I mean Staff Sergeant Schmidt who died last Saturday who diffused sixty four bombs and then tragically lost his own life, these people are heroes. And understandably people feel very, very angry. And the status quo is simply not an option. We have to sort out the Afghan police force. We’ve got to sort out the corruption in Karzai’s ..


DIMBLEBY

When you say you’ve got to sort out the Afghan police force, “we’ve got to sort out corruption” what does that mean when you’ve got the British troops that are there, the posspre.. the prospect at the moment of perhaps not quite certain when another five hundred going, what does it mean “We’ve got to sort out”?


HUNT

Well the ..


DIMBLEBY

Apart from it being a sort of sound aspirational rhetoric.


HUNT

Yeah I mean the reality, the reality is that if we are going to disengage from Afghanistan in a way that means that it doesn’t collapse then we are going to need a good Afghan police force. At the moment twenty five percent of that police force leaves every year. And we have had much less success with the police force than we have with the Afghan army. And what I think, you know we have to recognise, it’s going to be a very, very difficult process. But in the end I think General Sir Mike Jackson was right when he said however difficult it is we mustn’t let one incident determine the whole course of the war.


DIMBLEBY

So if you go, go back to the Canadians who are pulling out, if there were to be a Conservative government you would stay there come what may until the circum.., the conditions that you’ve just described as being desirable had been achieved, regardless of what British public opinion felt about the loss of life of British troops?


HUNT

Well I think we need to do a much better job of persuading the British public of why we’re there. And I hope a Conservative government would do that. But yes I think precipitate withdrawal sadly would come at even greater cost than the costs we are facing at the moment. I think it’s much easier ..


DIMBLEBY

What does precipitate mean? Sorry, these words – precipitate, precipitate could mean tomorrow, it could mean it ten years time or it could ..


HUNT

Well ..
DIMBLEBY

.. mean when the solution has been found.
HUNT

I mean setting an artificial date and saying that we are going to withdraw by that date is something that a smaller country can do. But I think we have to recognise that America is the dominant player in this. And we need to stand full square with America because actually this is a problem for America, for Britain, but for the whole world. And I think we have a very honourable tradition in our country of taking our share of very, very difficult global responsibilities. It’s not easy. But I think in the end we have to recognise this is something we can be incredibly proud of what our troops are doing and we need to stand full square behind them and this is a time for resolve and not for doubt.


DIMBLEBY

Given your strictures Vince Cable what would be your exit strategy?


CABLE

Well I think the ex.. the exit strategy has to be part of a wider strategy. And the wider strategy has to concentrate on the political rather than the military. I think the idea that this can be, war can be won purely with military means is absurd and it defies ..


FLINT

... saying that actually Vince.


CABLE

.. but it defies all historical experience. The Russian army were defeated there. The British army were defeated twice in the nineteenth century. We had one experience that we’re not often told about in the history books where an army of twenty five thousand men ..


FLINT

I don’t think anyone’s saying that Vince though are we?


CABLE

.. were almost wiped out to the last man So it is ..


FLINT

We, Vince but we’re not ... are we?


CABLE

.. predominately a political process and people who we otherwise would not like and perhaps despise are going to have to be brought into this political process to restore order. [APPLAUSE]


FLINT

But that’s, but that’s an, but that’s another reason why Gordon Brown in his speech today also laid out for the attention, attention of Karzai the need to engage with some of the more moderate elements in the Taliban to start having those sort of conversations.


DIMBLEBY

Okay. We’ll leave that there. And if you wish to discuss it after the Saturday broadcast of this programme there is of course Any Answers. And the number to ring is 03700 10044 and the email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Our next please.


RONXLEY

Richard Ronxley. We’ve been called the sick man of Europe. Are we now to become the castrated man of Europe under a future Conservative government? [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

This is the recent statement by Mr Cameron on Europe in which amongst other things he said that there would not be because the Treaty was now law a referendum, made some proposals that a Conservative government would seek to restore to the United Kingdom powers that presently reside with Europe. Caroline Frint?


FLINT

Well one thing’s for sure, we’ve witnessed in the last year a huge amount of deceit I think by David Cameron. As Europe Minister I was exposed countless occasions to how they were going to have a treaty, a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, how it wasn’t going to happen. And now he’s got his get out of jail free card by the fact it’s going to be ratified. I think what’s worrying for me is about where trying to appease right wing Euro-sceptics within in his party he puts at risk the ability for us to get the most benefits we can out of the European Union. And I know from countless visits to the North East how European investment has helped to create jobs and sustain jobs in this part of England. He would .. [APPLAUSE] And if he thinks, and if he, and if he thinks that should he win the next election which I obviously hope he doesn’t that he can extract himself from being part of the European Union with no price to be paid in the case of British jobs and businesses then he’s very much mistaken. I think he’s been exposed and we should look much more closely at some of his other policies to see if they’re as shallow.


DIMBLEBY

Just on the .. [APPLAUSE] Just very briefly on the question of referendum itself, isn’t it breathtaking for you to assert that Cameron has double dealt as it were ..


FLINT

No.
DIMBLEBY

.. when, when [HEAR, HEAR] .. your government promised a referendum. And then when it refused a referendum said that the constitution was no longer there. It was now a treaty? Pot calling kettle black comes to mind.
FLINT

Well the fact is .. [LAUGHS] .. the fact is .. [APPLAUSE] The, the, the, the fact is, the fact is Jonathan at one point it’s absolutely the case, yes there was discussion about a constitution and there was inter-government, there was an inter-governmental group that looked at it. A number of countries including France said they weren’t prepared to have one. And the result, the Lisbon Treaty which is about the third the size of what the constitution documentation was putting forward came out of that. The reason for the Lisbon Treaty is to actually streamline Europe so actually you can get on with the business of actually delivering on jobs, on opportunities and investment.


DIMBLEBY

Yeah just on, just on, just on ..


FLINT

It’s a trying to – and that ..


DIMBLEBY

.. with great respect ..


FLINT

.. and that is why ..


DIMBLEBY

.. just with great respect ..


FLINT

.. just like Margaret Thatcher ..


DIMBLEBY

.. you’re saying ..


FLINT

.. we don’t have referendums ..


DIMBLEBY

Caroline ..


FLINT

.. on treaties.


DIMBLEBY

Caroline, with great respect so what you’re saying is the pot isn’t calling the kettle black?



FLINT

No I’m saying actually the Treaty is not a constitution.


DIMBLEBY

Understood. Thank you. Carol Gould? You watch it as it were from outside but ..


GOULD

That’s right.


DIMBLEBY

.. very engaged.


GOULD

Yes. Now I’d like to make an American analogy again if nobody minds. Americans ..


DIMBLEBY

That’s what you’re here for.


GOULD

.. absolutely. Think of the United States as a giant confederation of states. And at the moment Americans are demonstrating in Washington because they fear that quote “big government” is taking over. They have this fear that they’re going to become part of a nanny state. And I kind of see an analogy between what’s happening in Europe and what’s happening in the States that Americans feel that, that something has happened where they thought they had elected a president who is going to be democratic and take everything into consideration. But they feel as if things are being thrown at them. And I think this is the fear I perceive, particularly having watched Question Time last night and seen the anger of Robert Kilroy-Silk who is I’m assuming rather on the side of the Euro-sceptics to put it mildly.


FLINT

Just a bit.


GOULD

The right wing Euro-sceptics. And that there is this anger that, that the whole kind of British, the British culture, the, the whole way of doing things here is further being drained away. And that is something Americans feel about big government which, which they hate. They actually do hate.


DIMBLEBY

Thank you. Vince Cable?


CABLE

Well the original question was about how far this has weakened Britain in Europe should the Conservatives get into office. And the answer is it is because instead of working together with the European Union on future problems we’re going to be absorbed for years in renegotiations of things that cannot be renegotiated dissipating an enormous amount of goodwill. If you looked at the specific things that David Cameron’s now promising to do, one is to reopen the whole question of social legislation, in other words the workers’ rights and ditching those. The Europeans are not going to agree to that. And I think a lot of people in Britain wouldn’t want to lose them either. The one area where is a real problem which is about working time and people’s freedom to work their own hours we have got an opt out anyway. Then there is the issue about cooperation in criminal matters which he apparently wishes to stop. This is helpful to the UK in all kind of manners of chasing paedophiles and drug barons across national boundaries and he wants to stop that. And then there’s a positive agenda which we will not be able to get into because under a Conservative government we’d be absorbed in this backward looking stuff. For example there are these big climate change negotiations which can only be done on a European level. Or if you take something very topical like bankers’ bonuses in practice you have to cooperate with other countries because otherwise the bankers flit backwards and forwards. You need cooperation over regulation otherwise it just doesn’t work. And if Britain is going to be absorbed in this backward looking exercise solely to placate a small number of very Euro-phobe right wing Tory MPs and the Murdoch press, I’m afraid this is going to do this country enormous damage. [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

Can I, Vince can I just ask you in the hope that you may be in this respect quite impartial as between the conflict, between the two parities over commitments made or not made. When David Cameron said in a newspaper article back in two thousand and seven which is constantly cited “I will give this cast iron guarantee. If I become prime minister a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations”. He went on to say in the same breath “No treaty should be ratified without consulting the British people in a referendum”. Would you concede therefore that he didn’t actually renege on a commitment because his commitment was not to ratify without consulting the British people were he in a position to ratify?


CABLE

Well that’s a somewhat convoluted way of explaining his position and I think he more or less had to acknowledge the other day that he had done a complete U-turn and with considerable embarrassment.


DIMBLEBY

I don’t think he did. He started off his speech by saying “I didn’t make a U-turn” and ..


CABLE

Well ..
FLINT

That means he did.
CABLE

I think Mr Murdoch to whom he made this pledge will not be pleased and will get his pound of flesh.


DIMBLEBY

Jeremy Hunt, castrated man of, of Europe, sort of understatement from the view of the French European Minister.


HUNT

Yes. Comments which I’m very pleased to say he has retracted. Look the ... We had a total misrepresentation of David Cameron and the Conservative position from Vince just now. We are absolutely not looking to get embroiled in a big row with Europe. We’ve just been talking about Afghanistan. That is going to be a huge crisis that is going to have to be dealt with and the foreign policy agenda. We’ve got a collapsing economy and that, we may talk about that later. But that is going to be something that is going to be incredibly important. And what David Cameron is saying is that what we need to do is to look at those parts of the Lisbon Treaty which is now law – I wish we could overturn it by having a referendum but having a referendum now would be as, as meaningless as, as the people of Hartlepool voting not to pay income tax, however pleasant a thought that might be. It wouldn’t have any legal standing. And that’s where we’re at with the Lisbon Treaty. It is law. And a referendum would have no legal force. We were the only party that stuck to the pledge made before the last election that we would fight to have a referendum up until the point at which it was ratified. But now that it is ratified Gordon Brown, Caroline’s government has signed us up to something which needs the unanimous agreement of all twenty seven member states before it can be unpicked.


FLINT

But Jeremy you said that Cameron also said that if there was a situation where the Lisbon Treaty was ratified the Conservative Party if they were in government would not let latter, let matters lie. What does that mean?


HUNT

It means that we are going to do what we can where the most dangerous parts of the Lisbon Treaty where we’ve talked about the working time directive, we’ve talked about ..


FLINT

And you think that they ..


HUNT

.. health and safety laws. We, what we’re also going to do Caroline ..


DIMBLEBY

...
HUNT

Can I just respond to what Caroline said? What we’re also going to do is pass a law that means it is never again possible for a government to transfer powers to Brussels without asking the British people whether they agree. That’s something your government promised to do and reneged on its promise. This has been a very, very bad week ..
FLINT

So ..
HUNT

.. for parliamentary democracy. [APPLAUSE]
FLINT

And so ..


DIMBLEBY

Given, given, given that that, that that, the prospect of such a new treaty, constitutional change of that kind is thought to be way down the road, you said the working time directive. The truth is British government does have an opt out on the working time directive. The, the Europeans, the French, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Dutch European Minister, good ally of Britain. There’s more chance of snowball surviving hell than the U, EU restarting debates on treaty change. I mean aren’t you going to be banging your head against a very solid brick wall of twenty six other member states?


HUNT

Well we will work patiently, determinedly over the period of the next parliament and ..


FLINT

And ..
HUNT

.. it won’t be easy. I mean the reality is that this treaty that has become law because Labour reneged on its promise makes it very, very difficult. But you know these are ..
DIMBLEBY

You’re whistling in the dark aren’t you?


HUNT

Well it’s going to be difficult. No one’s denying that it’s going to be difficult. But things like for example the hours worked by doctors or fire officers, these are actually very important things. They should be decided in this country. And we want to make sure that they ..


FLINT

So you’re going to spend your time ..


HUNT

.. can be decided in this country.


FLINT

.. you’re going to spend your time trying to get rid of a number of the things that I think actually have benefited the UK in terms of jobs and you think that somehow the rest of the European Union are going to sit back and say that’s okay and not turn round and say I think as, as was pointed out by Vince that that will mean that they will no longer collaborate and work with us on very important matters of British concern, like cross border crime, like jobs and investment, like business opportunities and like dealing with this recession.


HUNT

Caroline, we are not going to spend our time trying to unpick legislation that we agree with. But what we believe which is very different to you, what we believe is in these very important areas they should be decided by the British people because we’re a parliamentary democracy. And the problem with so much European legislation is that once it passes into the statute book it can never be undone. At least, at least if you have a government in Westminster that you don’t like you have something you can do about it. When it comes to a general election you can boot it out and I really hope that happens at the next election.


FLINT

I think it’s about looking into the future and what Europe can offer ..


HUNT

But with European legislation ..


FLINT

.. rather than looking to the past ..


HUNT

.. because of what you’ve done ..


FLINT

.. which is what the Tories do.


HUNT

.. because of what you’ve done that is not going to be possible and that gives us a huge challenge ..


FLINT

Because of our engagement in Europe we have for example criminals being brought back to this country who’ve committed crimes here cos we’ve got the European Arrest Warrant. We have much more collaboration between our police forces to tackle cross border crime. We’ve had huge investment in businesses here in the North East and elsewhere. And there are many companies where British workers get contracts in other parts of the European Union because of that relationship. Your stance would put that at risk. [APPLAUSE]


HUNT

I’ll just say briefly it wouldn’t. We believe in cooperation with Europe. But we want to cooperate as independent sovereign nation states. That’s the difference.


FLINT

And they all are.


DIMBLEBY

Thank you. We’ll leave that there. [APPLAUSE] And please go to our next question.


HACKETT

Simon Hackett. Should parents have the right to veto their children’s sex education?


DIMBLEBY

It will soon be part of the school curriculum that all children from five upwards will be learnt amongst other things what is called sex education by Simon Hackett in the question, but they will be able to withdraw their children until they reach the age of fifteen. At the age of fifteen they will not be so permitted. And if they do or if a child is absent it will be treated as a truancy. Carol Gould?


GOULD

Yes. I think that parents should have the right. Now I do come from a fairly conservative background. And write from a fairly conservative viewpoint. And I do feel that parents should have this right. At the moment we are, our society, as Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs recently said, this society is beginning to unravel and we are becoming more and more involved in the most, I think some of the most awful things in the media that children are exposed to. And I think something, a line has to be drawn. And I think if parents have this right I’m all for it. [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

And so you think that those, at the age of fifteen, that you would support parents if they sought to defy the law by refusing to allow their fifteen years olds to stay at school as the law requires?


GOULD

Well I think that – sorry I didn’t, I had trouble hearing you Jonathan?


DIMBLEBY

I’m so sorry. The law says that once a child reaches the age of fifteen then they do have to have this education. If a parent then said well you’re not going, I’m keeping you out or the child them self said I don’t want to go ..


GOULD

Yes. Yes.


DIMBLEBY

.. it would be treated as a truancy. You would support the parent and the child in not going?


GOULD

I think fifteen is a fair age for them to be taught. But I think up until then the parents have a right to decide what their children are exposed to because they’re exposed to an enormous amount of pretty awful stuff at the moment in the media and it’s available on the internet. We are in the wild west. I call the internet the wild west. And I wouldn’t want to be a parent ..


DIMBLEBY

I thought you were referring to Hartlepool for a moment on the East Coast.


GOULD

Sorry.
DIMBLEBY

Thank you. Jeremy Hunt?
HUNT

Well I would much rather that parents were able to choose how their children were educated about sex education than Ed Balls through another top down directive which I think schools have far too many of anyway. But I think the reason why he’s introduced this is because he is rightly concerned about the fact that we have greater rates of teenage pregnancy in this country than anywhere else in Europe. It is a real crisis. It’s directly feeds into all the broken society problems that we have in all sorts of ways. And, and the question that should be asked is not how we can force children who aren’t currently receiving sex education to receive it but why it is that those parents want to opt out of sex education and the reason very often is because they are concerned that in our schools sex education is about the mechanics, the biology of procreation and there is no moral dimension, there is no element of teaching people about the importance of having a sexual relationship within the context of a loving relationship. Those very, very important things are missing because a lot of schools worry that that is straying into areas of morality. And so what they’re worried is that children aren’t getting a complete picture. And I think that’s the issue that needs to be addressed. [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

Caroline Flint?


FLINT

I think one of the problems we’ve had in our education system for too long is a sort of separation between the biological aspects of reproduction and the very important area of, as young people grow up, and it’s about what’s appropriate to different age groups, dealing with peer group pressure and dealing with relationships and knowing what to do. And what we’re talking about here is not just sex education, we’re talking about personal relationships. We are talking about discussions about sexual behaviour and contraception but we’re also talking about dealing with drugs and recognising when things are risky to young people’s health. Now the proposition is is that up to the age of fifteen parents could still take their children out of these classes. But at fifteen in all our state schools those fifteen year olds should be able to have access to information in these areas. And I think that’s important. Because at sixteen that’s the legal age of consent. And I think it’s very important that those fifteen year olds are given information, factual information but also talked about the skills, about dealing with choices they will have to make as young adults. And if they’re in a faith school what Ed Balls has also said that if the faith school of whatever type that is wants to at the same time talk about their ethos which might be that they don’t agree with sex outside of marriage they will still be able to do that. But all fifteen year olds should have access to factual information that’s going to help them cope with very difficult decisions as they enter young adulthood. [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

Vince Cable?


CABLE

Well if this was entirely left to parents of course there wouldn’t be very much sex education because an awful lot of parents are awkward and embarrassed, not, not because of religious faith, and that’s why it has to be part of the school curriculum, that it’s got of course to be taught sensitively. But that said I do think parents should have the right to opt out if they find this offensive in some way or something they’d prefer to deal with themselves within the context of their own religious faith. And this is currently the position up to fifteen.


FLINT

Up to nineteen actually ...


CABLE

And it’s, and it’s also there in relation to faith schools. Faith schools are allowed to teach sex education in the way they want within the framework of their own faith. And I’m sure that is right. I’m sure it is right that we should have sex education in schools and I’m sure it’s right that where people do have individual objections they should be free to withdraw.


DIMBLEBY

And, and, and does, do you apply that at the age of fifteen and beyond?


CABLE

Yes I wouldn’t make an arbitrary limit. I would, I would apply it across the board.


DIMBLEBY

Okay.
GOULD

Jonathan?
DIMBLEBY

Yes.
GOULD

Could I add one more point which is that we do know that more and more people are putting their children into faith schools in the UK, more and more registrations. And I think that also is a factor in this issue that the faith schools have certain rules about these ..
FLINT

But Carol ..


GOULD

Yeah?
FLINT

But Carol as I said the proposition is that within faith schools they can still talk about this ..
GOULD

Yeah.
FLINT

.. in the context of ... So if a faith school of whatever type feels that sex outside of marriage is wrong they can still say that. But the fifteen year olds should still have access ..
DIMBLEBY

I’m going to bring in Simon ..


FLINT

.. to factual information ..


GOULD

Yeah.
FLINT

.. for them to be able to make decisions.
GOULD

And in the Jewish and Asian communities we’re finding that there are far fewer teen pregnancies, far fewer break ups of families and perhaps the interaction of these faiths is a good thing.


DIMBLEBY

Simon Hackett you posed the question.


HACKETT

I just think that fifteen is far too late when children are already developing relationships and education isn’t just about giving the green light for sexual activity it’s about educating young people for life. And after all I can’t veto my own children’s maths education just because I think that algebra’s a dangerous practice.


DIMBLEBY

So you wouldn’t, you .. [LAUGHS] [APPLAUSE] .. So on the algebra principle you would actually make it obligatory for all children right the way through?


HACKETT

Yeah.
DIMBLEBY

Okay. Thank you. You may have thoughts about that. I’m sure some will. 03700 100444. The email address again any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Our next question please.
THOMSON

Graham Thomson. When does the panel believe we will recover from the economic recession?


DIMBLEBY

There’s a simple question for you. Jeremy Hunt?


HUNT

It’s a simple question but I’m afraid I don’t know the answer. It’s very, very difficult. It’s been extremely depressing to find out that now that America has come out of recession we are the last country among the major economies to still be in recession. Bear in mind that a year ago Gordon Brown told us we were the best placed country in the world to weather the recession. He said he’d save the world and here we are a year on and we are struggling more than anyone else. And we’ve just had the third bank bailout in a row. Alistair Darling to me is like one of those builders who says he’s going to fix the roof and then he comes back and says it’s going to cost double what I thought and then he comes back another time and he says it’s going to cost three times what I thought. And it is very worrying. And I think if we’re going to recover as an economy there are two things that we need. We need credit for businesses and individuals and we need confidence. And we won’t have confidence until people feel that we have a government that is going to put Britain back on its feet financially. People have to believe that there is a credible programme to balance the books financially. And we haven’t had that under Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling and I think that is one of the reasons that’s contributing to the very, very bitter recession that everyone’s suffering at the movement. [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

Carol Gould?


GOULD

If you actually want an actual figure of when one thinks we’re going to come out of this I hate to say this but I think it could be a decade. We are in for a lot more trouble. And as Jeremy said another bank being bailed out. It seems like a bottomless pit. It’s a cycle that keeps going on and on. But the one difference is, as Jeremy pointed out, that the United States changed its congressmen and senate in two thousand six as Malcolm Rifkind pointed out on Question Time in November O six. He said the Americans got mad and they got rid of the republicans. Then in November two thousand eight they elected in a new government. And one of the reasons why there is some recovery if you can give Obama credit for that and I do believe he does need credit for this, is that there is what he calls a stimulus package. There is a degree of recovery. And you’ve had the same government, the same party in for twelve years. And you have an unelected prime minister. At least the United States has a guy they elected. [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

Do you have any idea when it might be Caroline Flint?


FLINT

No I don’t. And obviously we hope it’s as soon as possible. What I do know is is that whilst we’re still in this situation we have to be doing all we can to make sure that we are spending to help people keep in work and keep the country going. And if it was left to Jeremy and the Conservatives we wouldn’t have put money into the economy in the same way as it was agreed by practically every, every other member country of the IMF. It’s very important right now that we continue to support jobs through the fiscal package and do what we can, that we have projects that can go ahead around the country, whether that’s schools being built or roads being built or anything else. And again if it was left to the Tories it’s not so long ago at the Conservative Party Conference when George Osborne was saying we should be cutting back now. That would be an absolute disaster for this country and I, I really don’t think it shows any demonstration of understanding of what we’re dealing with here and how difficult it is.


DIMBLEBY

You say you don’t .. [APPLAUSE] .. You say you don’t know when but I seem to recall the Chancellor saying ..


FLINT

Yeah.
DIMBLEBY

.. that the turn will come at the end of the year. I suggest you don’t ..
FLINT

Well ..
DIMBLEBY

.. all together trust the Chancellor’s ..
FLINT

I – no ..


DIMBLEBY

.. foresight.


FLINT

.. no, no. The Chancellor has said you’re right about the turn of the end of the year. I would say this. I think that economists and Vince is an economist so forgive me, I’m not one. But I hear reports nearly every other day from various distinguished people claiming about when this is going to end. Even if there is a technical assessment of when the recession is going to end which economists can all agree with, I think we will still see in communities like Hartlepool and elsewhere the impact going on for some time.


DIMBLEBY

Thank you.


FLINT

And that’s why continued spending and support for communities will continue to be our top priority.


DIMBLEBY

Vince Cable? [APPLAUSE]


CABLE

Well I’m not going to get into this forecasting competition either. But I think it will be a very long and difficult process getting back to anything like normality. And the reason was that we went into this crisis on the back of an artificial boom that was based on a very, very large amount of household debt in Britain, larger in relation to people’s income than any other country in the Western world much of it built around a, an artificial bubble in property. And we went into this crisis with probably the biggest banking industry in the world. Three of the five biggest banks in the world were British. And one of them has gone down. The others have struggled. And the British taxpayer is having to pick up the tabs for this collapsed banking system. This is going to take years to resolve. Now the question is how do we get out of it and what do we do. I mean the first priority – and I agree with the comment made earlier – is actually getting the banks to perform. And they’re not. You know vast amounts of taxpayers’ money’s gone into them and the money isn’t coming out the other end in the form of credit for good British companies which need credit in order to function.


DIMBLEBY

Because they’re shoring up their capital position.


CABLE

They’re, indeed. They’re hoarding capital. They’re building up their balance sheets. They want to get back to what they regard as business as usual. They want to get back into the private sector as quickly as possible with all the bonuses associated with it. So they’re not lending to British industry. And that’s is crippling the economy and holding it back. I think the next step – and I agree with Caroline that it would be foolish in the current position to start cutting back on the role of the government keeping the economy going. It would aggravate the problem of unemployment. That is a difference I have with the Tories. But beyond that we are going to have to get the budget deficit back into some kind of balance and that will be a long and difficult process. And beyond that and the key point in the argument I think eventually we need to think about what kind of modern economy we’re going to have. We can’t rely on banking to sustain the British economy forever. It’s got to be based on knowledge and the kind of products of this college and we’ve got to have sustainable employment. And unemployment in this area I think is twice the national average for men. It’s a shameful position and .. [APPLAUSE] ..


DIMBLEBY

And very, very swiftly cos I need to move on. Jeremy Hunt?


GOULD

If anything ..


DIMBLEBY

Jeremy Hunt?


HUNT

I just want to correct what Caroline is saying here because you know she’s saying that you know there are going to be cuts under the Tories. But we discover in a secret budget document that was written the day before the Budget that Labour had been planning ten percent cuts in public spending from next April. And I think this is a debate about honesty because Vince is right. We do have a debt crisis and the party that’s going to win the trust of the British people is the party that’s honest about that and honest about the kind of things that are going to be necessary to sort it out. [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

Thank you. Let’s go swiftly to our next.


BRUCE

Richard Bruce. Does the panel welcome Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations in full or is he in fact encouraging wife or even husband swapping?


DIMBLEBY

On that a certain Mr Phil Cole has said he’s been married to his Labour MP but they lived together for ten years before that and he works for her now, what if an MP begins a sexual relationship with a member of staff? Mr Cole asked. At what point does it become a formal relationship under the Kelly rules? Are we going to have bedroom policing et cetera? Phil Cole happens to be if I’m not wrong the husband of Caroline Flint. So what’s your thought about it Caroline Flint?


FLINT

Well first of all the reason why we’ve got the Kelley Report is because the shameful way in which our allowances system was operating. And that’s caused obviously immense anger in the public and to that extent you know the Kelly Report is absolutely essential to changing that. And to that end you know I fully support it. As you said my husband works for me. When I became an MP back in nineteen ninety seven and I represented a constituency in South Yorkshire I wanted to live in my constituency. I had young children and both my husband and I were working in London. He gave up his job, a more lucrative career I have to say, to come and run my constituency office. I’ve always been up front from day one of being an MP about that and that’s been ...


DIMBLEBY

So do you think on, do you think that Kelly is wrong on that?


FLINT

Well I think he hasn’t fully understood the role of partners – and I’m talking about husbands and wives or partners, not daughters or anything else – to an MP in terms of doing a job. I believe strongly and passionately in the constituency link. And what has always worried me through this debate is not ending up with a situation where A, you have to be a millionaire to be a member of parliament or B, the constituency link is broken. I think that’s important. I found a way to do it from ninety seven because of the choice my husband gave to give up his career. We’ll have to deal with whatever Kelly says. I have to say back in ninety seven if I hadn’t been able to do that I probably wouldn’t have become an MP. [APPLAUSE]


DIMBLEBY

Not much, not much time I’m afraid. Vince Cable?


CABLE

Well to answer the question simply I think we should accept the Kelly results in their, in their entirety and I don’t think MPs should be quibbling about it. [APPLAUSE] I mean the fact is that parliament as a whole whatever the conduct of individual members has been brought into disrepute and we have to get this right. And the only way to do it is to, is to have a clear set of rules, decided in this particular case on the advice of somebody who’s wholly independent and to go with it. On the particular case of spouses the problem arose which has now been forgotten, was an appalling abuse by one particular MP who had almost his whole family on the payroll ..


DIMBLEBY

Derek, Derek Conway.


CABLE

Derek Conway and there were several others. Now I mean it happens to be the case that there are large numbers of MPs and Caroline is one, who for entirely good reason have hired their spouses.


DIMBLEBY

Vince get to the point. Cut to the chase got I’ve got to move on.


CABLE

Cut to the chase accept the Kelly Report.


DIMBLEBY

Thank you for being so graciously swift. Jeremy Hunt?


HUNT

Look when MPs were running their own rules for expenses and allowances we lost the public’s trust. The solution is to get someone independent to do it. We have that independent person. We have to accept what they say. No ifs, no buts.


DIMBLEBY

Even if there seem to be some natural injustices in the process?


HUNT

There will be things that we don’t like in it but you know when we were doing it we forfeited the trust to do it ourselves and I want to move on and rebuild that trust with the public and that means accepting what has been said in full.


DIMBLEBY

Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Last word to you Carol Gould?


GOULD

Yes. And I’ll take it one step further from Jeremy which is when I first started hearing about the MPs expenses scandal when it first started coming out in the Telegraph people were saying my gosh, some of the, the indiscretions of American congressmen and senators who are often at the behest of lobbyists pale into insignificance compared to some of the worst offences here. And again, what you said is so true, that the public’s trust was lost. I think where politicians misunderstood the mood of the public was that people living say up here in Hartlepool who are trying to pay their mortgage, pay their bills and if they walked into their employer and said “Oh I’d like to have this allowance and that allowance and I’ve got this and I need this” you just can’t do it.


DIMBLEBY

Carol Gould ..


GOULD

And this is, this is ..


FLINT

MPs do have to live ...


GOULD

.. this is taxpayers’ money.


FLINT

And there’s a constituency link there ..


GOULD

I appreciate that.


FLINT

.. which is at risk ..


GOULD

I appreciate that.


FLINT

.. at the end of the day.


DIMBLEBY

And we could continue it and we have discussed a great deal. We have to stop because we’ve got no more time. 03700 100444 is the telephone number for Any Answers. We’re going to be in Cardiff at the Cardiff Business School next week. Join us then. From here at the Hartlepool Sixth Form College, goodbye.


END OF TRANSCRIPT
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