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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions? 23 February 2007
ANY QUESTIONS?

TX: 23/02/07 2000-2045


PRESENTER: Jonathan Dimbleby

PANELLISTS: Jim Murphy
Alex Salmond
Jim Wallace
Annabel Goldie

FROM: Eyemouth High School, Berwickshire


DIMBLEBY
Welcome to Eyemouth, which is a port about six miles north of the border between Scotland and England. They still depend significantly on fishing and to that end the harbour has been deepened and there's even a new fish market. The town centre is also in the throes of renovation.

We're at Eyemouth School, which serves the town and the surrounding area. It's a high school, proud of its academic record and the range of sporting and other activities it offers its 440 pupils. Our hosts here are the Eyemouth and District Rotary Club.

On our panel: Alex Salmond, star of Have I Got News For You and of course leader of the Scottish National Party.

Annabel Goldie, member of the Scottish Parliament and the leader of the Conservative Party north of the border. She's regarded as a no-nonsense politician, ready, in her own words, to wield her matron's handbag to impose discipline on the 17 strong Conservative membership of the Parliament.

Jim Wallace is also a member of the Scottish Parliament where he represents the Liberal Democrats who were led by him from 1992 until 2005. He's standing down when Parliament dissolves at Easter.

Jim Murphy is a Scottish MP who entered the Westminster Parliament in those long ago glory days for Labour of the 1997 landslide. He's now minister of state responsible for employment and welfare reform. He's the fourth member of our panel. [CLAPPING]

Could we please have our first question?

BENZ
Paul Benz. Is our operation in Afghanistan going to contribute to our security at home?

DIMBLEBY
There are 5,600 UK troops as part of the NATO force at the moment and more than a thousand, according to the BBC, are soon due to join them. Alex Salmond.

SALMOND
I think it's hugely difficult and it's obviously proving a much greater difficulty than, for example, the then Secretary of State for Defence John Reid thought when he remarked that he hoped the divisions being sent wouldn't have to fire a shot, as a peacekeeping force. Clearly it's not that, there's very, very serious military operations underway indeed. There is always tension in the question of Afghanistan, there's an argument that in previous invasions of Afghanistan or previous interventions in that area that people left too soon, in our words that the state was taken over by the Taleban and therefore the state in itself ceased to function and set up problems for the future. Alternatively - and I think this might be the argument I favour - is that what actually went wrong in Afghanistan is instead of finishing the job that was started in the invasion of Afghanistan back in 2001-2002 the world's attention, the vast resources of the United States and indeed the United Kingdom, were diverted into a totally extraordinary illegal invasion of Iraq, that the world's eyes were taken off the Afghanistan ball and in addition to all of the other many unfortunate disgraceful consequences of that illegal invasion we're now find ourselves in a nightmare in Afghanistan.

DIMBLEBY
Do you believe that it's necessary to remain there and see it through for the - to go to the question - for the sake of security at home?

SALMOND
I think it would be very difficult to disengage from Afghanistan, I think we should disengage from Iraq immediately or as immediately as is compatible with the safety of our troops. I think the Afghanistan situation is much more difficult to disengage from, I think we're in that difficulty because of the misguided adventurism that took us into Iraq.

DIMBLEBY
Annabel Goldie.

GOLDIE
Well I certainly hope so Paul, is the answer and clearly we are committed to the presence of our troops there because if we cannot try and ensure that, for example, the Taleban does not get a foothold there or some other terrorist organisation does not get a foothold there, both of which are clearly very, very visible and obvious risks, then yes our safety at home is compromised and I think we all understand that. What I think does slightly concern me is that we all know - we know from the experience of Iraq that engaging in military activity and committing our own servicemen and service women to that endeavour is obviously highly risky and a very dangerous obligation which we ask them to undertake and to discharge. My concern is that I do think our forces are getting stretched to breaking point and I have to say that I found distasteful that the Prime Minister, during the week in the House of Commons, could make what I think all of us would regard as a welcome announcement about the start of withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, I don't think any of us would disagree that that was news we wouldn't to hear, but completely failed to tell us that almost immediately this significant deployment of troops was going to be made to Afghanistan. Now it seemed to me if he was making a very major defence announcement on the one front it would have been, I think, candid at best to have disclosed at that time to the Commons what he proposed to do in respect of committing our forces, or further forces, to Afghanistan. I think it's right the Commons should have had an opportunity to question on that and to raise issues. Now I thought it was slippery frankly that that opportunity was not allowed.

DIMBLEBY
Could you just [CLAPPING] minister, could you respond to that specific point before dealing with the bigger question or at least the question as put?

MURPHY
Well I think there's a general welcome for the statement that the Prime Minister made earlier in the week about the situation in Iraq and the welcome return of a large number of our troops. I don't think there is this correlation between Afghanistan and Iraq as some people would suggest. The problems in Afghanistan are because we're dealing with a determined and medieval theocracy of an organisation in the name of the Taleban who execute people for no good reason; who behead teachers because they're there to teach young girls alongside young boys; who definitely are connected to the attacks of 9/11 and the atrocities involved there; 80% of the UK's heroin comes from Afghanistan. So there is an entirely legitimate role for the UK to be involved in Afghanistan. And why we would have to send these additional troops? Two reasons: one because the Taleban are just a determined - determined fierce set of terrorists who are determined to do whatever they can to destabilise that country. But secondly, we do have to get an increased commitment from our NATO allies.

DIMBLEBY
John Reid ...

MURPHY
... There's a UN commitment in Afghanistan and we need to get more of our NATO allies to become involved there.

DIMBLEBY
To pick up Alex Salmond's point: John Reid, when he was Defence Minister, got it pretty fundamentally wrong in his analysis of his projection of what would be required didn't he?

MURPHY
Well the one thing that's clear about Afghanistan through the many decades is it's a very, very difficult place to predict any of the outcomes. So it was our hope when we sent our troops in, along with our international partners, that the situation would calm down and the violence would be reduced but the Taleban have been fierce and determined and it's the front line of this fight against terror, a terror that affects us all internationally.

DIMBLEBY
Jim Wallace.

WALLACE
I certainly agree I think with all the other members of the panel that it's important that we do maintain the presence in Afghanistan and if the military judgement is such is that we need to strengthen that I think it is right that we do so. Jim Murphy has indicated just what an atrocious appalling regime the Taleban was and I certainly know, talking to one senior military person who had been in Kabul, I hope this is still the case but Kabul's had its difficulties in recent times too, he said the sight to actually see a crowd of young girls going to school really actually showed just what had been achieved because as we know when the Taleban ruled the role of women was entirely suppressed, education was beyond their reach. And therefore I think there's some important roles that we're seeking to achieve there, quite apart from the fact that the Taleban give sanctuary to al-Qaeda. But I think Alex Salmond made the point that it did appear in the very - in the early days, after 2001, through 2002, that the Taleban were being pushed back, that the forces to which we were contributing were achieving a lot of success and then the eye was taken off the ball because the Prime Minister and President Bush wanted to engage in what I believe was an illegal war in Iraq, more resources were poured into that and that allowed the Taleban to be able to start to come back. So it's not just all the appalling things that have happened in Iraq that we're paying the price - the price has been paid for, I think equally there's been a price to be paid in Afghanistan for what the Prime Minister and President Bush did in Iraq.

DIMBLEBY
Given the character of the Taleban, the fact that they have been able to regroup, that more troops are having to go in order to combat their own progress, do the Liberal Democrats support as many troops as the Ministry of Defence determines are needed, however many may that be and for how long it may be?

WALLACE
Well I think - I mean I think we would accept the principle that we should have the level of troops there to do the job, although as the point has been made - we might reasonably look to some of other NATO allies to play their part too, this was a communal agreement through NATO and I don't think we should necessarily be left to bear the brunt of it. But I think ...

DIMBLEBY
Why do you think - why do you think they aren't doing it?

WALLACE
But I think what we have seen is a tremendous over stretch of our armed forces, I mean we have got both military leaders, generals - both current and recently retired - who are talking about considerable over stretch, that is primarily because of what has been going on in Iraq. But I do believe that we shouldn't be left to shoulder this with just a few other countries contributing troops, that in fact there's a responsibility on other NATO members to do so too. And as long as we have troops there that is quite focused on what their aims are but I think generally we should see this through.

DIMBLEBY
Alex Salmond.

SALMOND
I don't know why it should be at all surprising for anyone with any grasp of world history why an invasion of Afghanistan should be problematic. I mean Alexander the Great had problems in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union lost division after division after division in Afghanistan, which makes the decision to move into Iraq before the job in Afghanistan was complete all the more extraordinary and incredible. And while all politicians can make forecasts that turn out to be not quite as they seem and I've done one or two in my time incidentally, I think a Secretary of State for Defence who forecasts or suggests our troops won't have to fire a shot in anger in Afghanistan, it's probably quite a good thing that he's moved on to another job. And it might be a good thing if he moved out of office altogether. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Which though - because our panellists never know what the questions are - as it happens takes us to our next question please.

SHIELDS
Maureen Shields. Is the breakdown of the family unit the major cause of the social problems in Britain?

DIMBLEBY
This is in the context of course of John Reid who's now Home Secretary and the guns that are being toted by kids, urban child soldiers he was talking about and David Cameron making a rather different emphasis in relation to what should be done about it. Jim Wallace.

WALLACE
I don't think you could say it is the sole cause, nor do I think John Reid should bear the entire blame for the breakdown of the family unit. But I do think I mean there is something about family units and where we had perhaps a generation or two ago extended families where grandparents played a part as well as parents in the upbringing of children, where there was obviously when you had elderly people young children learnt respect, learned issues about how to deal with elders. And therefore I think that has been lost and I don't think that's necessarily - I don't think you have to blame politicians for that, it's just the way society has evolved and developed. But I think if we're - I mean there's no easy solution to some of the gun incidents that we've seen. I think to pretend that a summit of politicians is going to solve it is probably cloud cuckoo land. But what I would like to think and say is that if we have a culture - and politicians have played a part in this - where young people are demonised then it's not surprising that some of them - well actually you may say astonishingly they might believe politicians - and then consider themselves as demons. I think the vast majority of young people in this country are actually a force for good, can have positive attitudes and what we should be doing is actually encouraging that, make sure that they do have the facilities, the community facilities, where they can channel their energies into some worthwhile pursuits, where they're not just left to hang around, as the old saying goes - the devil makes work for evil hands to do.

DIMBLEBY
Who are these politicians who demonise? Every time it comes up as an issue on this programme politicians say very much what you've just said - we shouldn't demonise them.

WALLACE
I think the number of times that we hear - and I think Annabel's probably made comments in the Parliament, certainly also we hear from Jim's party that we're always talking about the louts that are hanging around street corners. Now I'll give Annabel's party credit - Mr Cameron wants to hug them, which I suppose is a step in some kind of positive direction. But you only need to listen to the political rhetoric and it is about - it is about gangs of youths that are standing on street corners. Well that undoubtedly does happen and proper action should be taken there but if you think - if you try and then suggest that that is the common pattern of all young people, sometimes you get that through, it's the only thing you ever hear politicians talking about, then we've completely got it wrong because the vast majority of young people I believe are a force for good in our communities, what we should be doing is making sure we're providing them with the encouragement, the leadership and facilities that they can actually - they can actually achieve their ambitions and make a contribution to the community through doing that.

DIMBLEBY
Jim Murphy.

MURPHY
I agree with Jim's point which is that too often there's a great focus, politicians, media and elsewhere, on a minority of young people who cause a substantial amount of our difficulties. And we don't celebrate all the good things that so many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young people do in this country - in charities, churches, helping people of all ages. ..

DIMBLEBY
But excuse me you say this emphasis - you're a minister in a government where minister after minister, who's been responsible in one way or another in this territory, has said indeed what Jim Wallace has just suggested - that there are louts on street corners, people who are out ...

MURPHY
I think there's an important distinction between saying that the minority who cause trouble should be punished and to protect the majority of young people who want to go about their business and play football and enjoy themselves and go to the cinema and hang about with their friends in a peaceful and reasonable way in the way that I daresay you did, I did. And it's important - the biggest victims of crime and antisocial behaviour in this country are young people, those are the people who are most often attacked and it's important that we recognise that. But also Jonathan it's important to say that well government has a responsibility, of course, like [indistinct word] childcare to ensure that families can help bring up children. The government does not bring up children in this country, it is not the government's role to bring up children. So we have to also look at the role of parents in bringing up their children and an increased focus on parental responsibility. Quite often it's easy to blame the government - I'll take my share of the blame when that's appropriate. But it's a bigger challenge for the whole of society including parents.

DIMBLEBY
And when Maureen Shield says is the breakdown of the family unit the major cause, not the only cause but the major cause, would you say yes or no or something ...?

MURPHY
I think it is - I think it is part of it. I think there's a gap in terms of positive role models that many children have. Now that's not because of the increase in one parent families per se but as a general sense the extended family's broken down, except in some of our ethnic minority communities of course where that's retained. So the breakdown of some families is part of the problem and together - government but most importantly, much more importantly, families have a key part to play here.

DIMBLEBY
Is there a distinction, as some of your party, Annabel Goldie, seem to be suggesting, between David Cameron's general approach on this and, for instance, the Prime Minister or John Reid with David Cameron talking about getting to the roots of crime - families, communities, which sounds very much in fact what the minister was saying - is there a distinction that the voters should be aware of?

GOLDIE
I think in fairness - I mean there's quite a commonality amongst politicians about the analysis of the problems, I think it would be - it would be churlish to deny otherwise. I mean coming to Jim's point when he was saying or alluded that I might have been unkind in some observations about young people, I'm not aware of ever having been that. And while I certainly haven't been running around hugging any young men recently, alas. What I did see in the Scottish Parliament was that I was very concerned about the broader issues of enforcement of law or order - law and order - of issues of respect. And certainly, as Jim will be very well aware, I mean in the context of Scottish society, but I think this difficulty extends beyond Scotland's borders, I think it extends throughout the United Kingdom, I am actually very deeply concerned about drug addiction in the United Kingdom and in Scotland. And I'm very well aware that many, many of our young people are helplessly and tragically just falling in to that lifestyle and I feel that we are as a society failing them when we allow that to happen. Now in amongst the broader issues of what on earth can we do, I mean I do think there are some very specific things we can do, I certainly believe we have to try and do something about re-engendering respect for authority, respect for authority just seems to have disappeared out the window. And I think that's at the heart [CLAPPING] ...

DIMBLEBY
Why - if you're going to be able to re-engender that you have to have an understanding of a sense of what causes the absence of respect for authority - you can't do a whole lecture, what would it be?

GOLDIE
I was just going to come to that Jonathan.

DIMBLEBY
What is it?

GOLDIE
What I am aware of is that I think from the moment we send young people out into the world, from the moment they get to school, I mean what is it we do to try and allow, for example, our school teachers our head teachers to affirm authority? It's actually in many respects very difficult for them to do that and I know dedicated teachers demoralised [CLAPPING] - I know them - they're demoralised, they're discouraged because they're competent, caring, committed professionals and yet they find themselves in an environment where they cannot actually get on with the job that we want them to do because on the one hand while we think they should have a natural right to instruct children in what authority and respect for authority is, on the other hand we actually give them no means whereby they can do that. I'm always aware ...

DIMBLEBY
What means would you like them to have which they don't have?

GOLDIE
Well speaking in the context of Scotland Jonathan I do think that we have to do something fairly dramatic about reaffirming the authority of head teachers within their schools. Now that authority has gone, that is partly a combination of state direction and intervention from the Scottish end of affairs, from the Scottish Parliament, it's also partly the consequence of local government intervention. I would like to get back to the good old days of Scottish education when ironically even before devolution we actually had a greater local autonomy in how we provided education within our local authorities and within our schools. I would actually like to see a situation where we use the Scottish Parliament to pass a new education act to put the head teacher back in charge of his or her school. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
The breakdown of the family unit, Alex Salmond, responsible for social problems?

SALMOND
Well I hesitate to say I'm going to sport a middle way here because I don't want to tread on Jim Wallace's toes and that's usually Jim's territory but you know there must be a middle way between hug a hoodie on the one side and the next draconian crack down on the other side. You see both of these statements are nothing to do with the problem they're addressing. David Cameron, with great respect for his hugging a hoodie, he wasn't actually trying to tackle the problem we're discussing, he was actually trying to tackle the perception of the Conservative Party as a nasty organisation, that's why he did it. And secondly ...

GOLDIE
Alex, utterly unfair, that's not worthy of you.

SALMOND
Annabel, I absolve you from any hoodie hugging, you are not the sort of person who would go in for that sort of thing. But believe me Annabel even in Conservative Party some image building goes on occasionally and believe me that's what that was designed to do. Whether it succeeded or not I don't know. But this crack down, I mean Home Secretaries - Conservative Home Secretaries, the current Home Secretary - it's a competition, if something happens therefore we must be as tough as possible. The next day in the Sun there'll be announced a summit on gun crime and therefore the government will be seen to do something. Now none of these things are actually about what this problem is about. This problem is about the breakdown, not just of the family unit, it's a breakdown of authority in society, it's a breakdown of reliable structures in society. Someone mentioned that youngsters don't have role models - when I go to primary schools in Scotland, unlike much of the publicity that is received classroom teachers are regarded as gods and goddesses by their class. And often that is because that is the most stable person that these youngsters will see. Many of these youngsters will come from reasonably dysfunctional families or broken families or difficult families but the classroom teacher is the most stable thing in their lives. And I just wonder if we look at one aspect of this problem - the research that tells us in first and second years at secondary school we'll lose a substantial chunk of our youngsters, particularly young males, who go into disruptive behaviour. I just wonder if one small aspect of addressing this problem, at least addressing the problem, is to reintroduce a class teacher for the first and second years of secondary school. There's an experiment going in Bathgate at the present moment, I'm going to be very, very interested in what conclusions it comes to. But I think the responses that are really going to matter are not the ones that grab the headlines or to try and change the image of a political party, it's trying to respond in the structures of how we do things that actually confront the basics of this problem, not the headline grabbing and not the superficial ones.

DIMBLEBY
We must leave that there with a reminder [CLAPPING] of the Any Answers number, it's 08700 100 444 and the e-mail address is any.answers@bbc.co.uk, that's after the Saturday edition of Any Questions on that issue or any of the others we are discussing. Can we go to our next question please.

LIPSCUMBE
Edward Lipscumbe. Why do Scots drink more than other Brits?

DIMBLEBY
As the latest NHS for Scotland figures suggest. Jim Murphy, why do you think this is the case?

MURPHY
I think I'm the wrong person to ask this of - I'm teetotal, vegetarian, non smoker. I live ...

SALMOND
What an advert you are Jim. TT, non smoker - you'll end up as a government minister.

DIMBLEBY
Minister - minister - a goody goody can also point out what's wrong.

MURPHY
I think there is a particular, peculiar thing in Scotland. I was in - I won't name which one - but one of the supermarkets at the weekend, doing my shopping last weekend, buying all the things that a family buy, and I bought, as I always do, a pack of alcohol free lager and yet I went to the check out and the lady at the check out said - You do know that's alcohol free? As if not drinking was some of antisocial behaviour. I'm unusual, I gave alcohol when I went to university, rather than taking it up at university. But I mean there is of course a serious issue. One of the things - I go out - if I go to a club or a pub with family and friends I ask at the bar - I don't drink, can I have an alcohol free drink? - and they'll look at me again as some sort of illness. You get served children's drinks - and this is just for tee totallers, this is for anyone who's driving. Now I would like to see all bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants have to stock not a children's drink for an adult who wishes not to drink but an alcohol free alternative and I think that would be an important part of the change of the culture in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Is it helpful for the first minister, Jack McConnell, to tell a hundred secondary school pupils - I quote him - "It's okay to get drunk once in a while?"

MURPHY
Well I think it's okay, I don't, I think it's okay once in a while to have a drink, on occasion to be drunk, of course - I don't come to this in a kind of moral temperance sort of abstinence sense that everyone must follow in my footsteps. But things in moderation are reasonable. The problem in Scotland - too many people think excess is the norm and it's part of a Scottish psyche which I think should belong in the past.

DIMBLEBY
Annabel Goldie, the figures suggest that those who haven't heard them, because they're only just out, that 81 in a 100 deaths were alcohol related, it's now down to 1 in 30. Two out of five men say that they drink more than the recommended daily intake and one in four women. Why do Scots drink more?

GOLDIE
I think Jim is correct when he says that unfortunately we do have a culture in Scotland, a culture perhaps more concentrated in certain parts of Scotland than others and it's very tragic. And I live in the West of Scotland but I regularly travel through Glasgow and I have to tell you that on a Thursday, Friday - Thursday even - Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, I mean some what you see is just deeply, deeply distressing. There are young people in advanced stages of drunkenness thinking they're having a good time. And it takes me back to what we've just been talking about - it's education. I think it's all part of young people without any sense of self discipline or restraint finding themselves with the money, which I think is another separate issue, but anyway off they go with their pals to frequent a pub or they then go on to a club and they think that an essential part of enjoying yourself is to consume quite extraordinary amounts of alcohol and get yourself into a state of what most of us would regard as physical illness. Now I think it's partly education, I do think there's an issue about young people simply being unaware of what they're doing to their bodies with the quantities of alcohol which they consume and if you speak to any medic - any medic will tell you that he or she is appalled of what the chemical effect of alcohol in that quantity is on the vital organs of a young person. Now I think we should be in the schools, I think we should be saying to young people look there's some basic things you need to know, we're not making judgements, we're just telling you what's happening to your body and it's up to you about what you decide to do with your life as you pursue it. But there's another issue Jonathan that is important - I have to say that I think to date in Scotland the robustness with which liquor licensing laws have been enforced has been quite ludicrous and I think there's a big question to be asked of our liquor licensing authorities - what are you doing to ensure that liquor licensing law, which is there to regulate, control and hopefully try and keep a safe and stable society, what on earth is happening to the enforcement of that law? Now I think that's a huge question that nobody's answering. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Alex Salmond.

SALMOND
Well [name] wrote a poem The Drunken Scot Looks At The Thistle, I think after yesterday's statistics it would be the dying Scot looks at the thistle. I absolve entirely Jack McConnell from blame for this, if just telling a group of youngsters that it's alright to get drunk in a while, I mean nobody else pays a blind bit of attention to what he says so I don't think we should blame him for any consequences that followed from that. I think there are certain things - I don't know the answer Jonathan as to why Scots should be particularly susceptible to drink, why the statistics should be so differentiated between Scotland and many other areas. I think there are certain things we can do about it and one obvious one in my view would be that much of the pricing policy of alcohol is specifically targeted at binge drinking, in other words there are big offers of large, large cans of lager and mountains of them specifically placed at supermarket shelves particular to encourage binge drinking at particular times of the weekend and I think something should be done about that. And if the four parties around this platform tonight at least had a pact that when that sensible initiative was proposed by any one party it wouldn't be opposed by any other party on the basis of increasing the price of booze, then at least again there'd be one modest contribution to tackling one aspect of this particular problem. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Jim Wallace.

WALLACE
Well I'm certainly happy to join that consensus because I do think that binge drinking, be it the promotional sales that you get in supermarkets or the happy hours that there have been and that is a contributory factor to this. Now I think it may well be, Jonathan, you quoted the figures - 1 in a 100, now 1 in 30 - that I suspect that alcohol is now more within the economic availability for people because incomes have increased and that is one of the factors we ought to look at. But it is, I think people have said right across the panel tonight, it's a cultural matter, it didn't start in 1980 either, but you don't turn cultures around overnight. But as I understand the case apparently with individuals who have an alcohol problem that the first step in trying to get over that problem is to acknowledge it. And it may be that as a society, as a Scottish society, we haven't yet got to the stage of actually acknowledging it, that all of us in one way or another have got some responsibility therefore for addressing it. I think the drinks trade, who actually are showing a willingness to engage with the health authorities to try themselves promote more sensible drinking, that's an important contribution. And again what we were saying - picking up Alex's point - I think the retail trade have got a responsibility here too. And if we actually can, as politicians, as those who are selling alcohol, those who are producing alcohol, if we actually can get some sort of common front then I think that way as a community we can start acknowledging the problem and thereafter trying to address it and change the culture.

DIMBLEBY
Our next question please.

BINS
Kerry Bins. Does the panel feel the Labour government has had a negative influence on the wellbeing of pensioners?

DIMBLEBY
This week the High Court has ruled that the Parliamentary ombudsman was right, ruling that ministers have produced inaccurate and misleading leaflets that reassured pensioners - occupational pensioners - that their pensions were safe when they weren't. And going on to say that the Pension Secretary, John Hutton, had acted irrationally by refusing to accept responsibility. Annabel Goldie.

GOLDIE
Well I think - I mean there are two issues here: there's the issue of pensioners and then there's the issue of pensions and they are related to some extent but they're also slightly separate. If we take the pensions one first, and I think that's what you were possible alluding to Jonathan, I think something frankly lamentable happened early on in the Labour government after 1997 because one Gordon Brown Esquire took it upon himself to raid pension funds. And I thought at the time there was something immoral about that, I mean surely to goodness the best thing for the state is that those of us who want to try and provide for our retirement are encouraged to do it and do it in the certainty that we will be not penalised for that and that our carefully made provision will not be sabotaged for quite, in my view, unjustified predations in the pension fund. But the initial raid took place and that raid continues at a level of about £5 billion a year. Now it's very difficult for pension funds to retain a stability against that kind of challenge and it's also meant that when there are stock market fluctuations - which there always will be because the pension funds are not there and are not anything unless they are invested through the stock market - when there were fluctuations and the market went down then there was absolutely no margin, no fat in the pension funds, to cope with that. So I think there is a real issue there, a real crisis. There are measures being brought forward to try and cope with that, I don't know about the adequacy of them, now obviously we can't write a blank cheque but I do think that the government at Westminster needs to look much more carefully at the structures it's put in place and the FSA - the finance assistance scheme. But separate from that pensions Kerry, well certainly in Scotland I think pensioners have found life very difficult as they look, for example, at council tax obligations. Now council tax bills are not very welcome news to any of us and it's a hefty commitment every month but I think for a pensioner on a fixed income an annually increasing council tax bill is a very frightening obligation and I think help is needed for our older members of the community. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Jim Wallace.

WALLACE
Well Annabel started talking about Gordon Brown and she went on to talk about raiding pension funds and I think there was a point there, I thought she was going to remind us that Gordon Brown once raised the pension by the grand sum of 75p and I do remember that because I think pensioners took some signal from that as that's what actually he thought - he thought about pensioners. I think the - and Jonathan you probably know - I think the particular complaint related to information that was given actually before the Labour government came to power but I think it's the way it's been handled in terms of totally ignoring an ombudsman's findings. I mean I know the ombudsman's findings are not enforceable in law but for heaven's sake the reason we set up - set up about 40 years ago - the ombudsman system was if there had been maladministration on the part of public officials, on the part of government, the ombudsman was there to flag it up and to stand to defend the rights of the citizen, defend the interests of citizen. And if the government just says well you've done that, too bad, we're not paying the blindest bit of attention to it then I do think whether it's pensioners or whether it's any other citizens that's no way to deal with a system which is mean to be there to look after the interests of our citizens.

DIMBLEBY
Do you believe that the government [CLAPPING] there are disagreements about how much it would cost but do you believe in the light of this that the government should meet the ombudsman's 2006 recommendations to compensate those who were wrongly invited to believe that their pensions were safe whatever happened?

WALLACE
I think inasmuch as these pensions - the pensioners find themselves in a disadvantageous position because they believed what was said in a government leaflet I think there is a moral duty that they should be adequately compensated. I just want to pick up one point from Annabel. It was the Conservative Party after all which introduced the council tax, council taxes really went up far more in the last few years of Conservative government than they have done since devolution. And the final point is if we had a local income tax many pensioners on fixed pensions wouldn't be paying any local contribution of revenue at all.

GOLDIE
What about the rest?

DIMBLEBY
Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform.

MURPHY
Well just one sentence: I don't think we should be giving local councils control over our income tax, they already have control over our council tax and I don't think most people in Scotland or the United Kingdom want the council to administer our income taxes. I think the Liberal proposal is balmy in the extreme and would cost the vast majority of people an awful lot more money. But in terms of the specific point about pensioners generally. I mean Annabel made a number of important points but what she forgot to mention is that all the improvements that have taken place in recent years - there's a million pensioners been lifted out of poverty - we know we have to do more - I know that, more importantly pensioners know that - but all the things that we have done - the winter fuel payment, the pensions credit, the free TV licences - none of these things were in place before and importantly they've been introduced by a Labour government and all of that money was opposed by Annabel's party when we had the votes in the House of Commons. So it's important to put that in context. But in terms of the specific point about maladministration on these private pensions. The judgement, the legal judgement is that the 1996 leaflet was maladministration, as Jim Wallace pretty fairly pointed out - Labour didn't produce, distribute and publish that leaflet, Annabel - it was your own government. But nevertheless we have sought through the introduction of the financial assistance scheme over £2 billion to support 40,000 pensioners who have lost out on their personal pensions. And what we've said as a consequence of this judgement is we will pay the legal costs of those who've been affected and that's important but we're now going to consider as a government the detail of the ...

SALMOND
... you lost the case.

MURPHY
Alex - Alex ...

SALMOND
You lost the case - that's why you're paying the legal costs. You also threatened the four pensioners involved that you would bankrupt them if they pursued their case. So just let's get the facts a wee bit straight here. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Hold it - on that issue is that true or is that false?

MURPHY
You know Alex sometimes in life not every complicated issue fits into a glib soundbite and you know that to be true and the complicated issues here Alex, I know the world for you is a series of slogans ...

SALMOND
I can feel the hand of history on your shoulders ...

MURPHY
Alex, it's a complicated legal judgement which the judge themselves has acknowledge. In fact if you look at the detail of the judgement, if that's of interest to you, the judge went in favour of the government in more instances than found against. It is a complicated issue ...

DIMBLEBY
Minister - let me - let's try and simplify or get it at least a bit clear. It is the case - it was 1996, therefore it wasn't on your watch as it were, however, the judge, Mr Justice Bean also said that John Hutton, then minister, had behaved irrationally - acted irrationally - by refusing to accept responsibility. Do you accept that the judge is right about that as well?

MURPHY
No I don't - I don't agree with that opinion, of course that's not a legal judgement, it's the judge's personal opinion. What we have said now is we'll look at the detail of this very complicated judgement and most people, except Alex, believe it is a very complicated issue with very important legal issues at the heart of it. We'll look at the detail of the findings and over the next few weeks, before the Pensions Bill comes back before Parliament, we will come forward with proposals what more we can do to support those pensioners.

DIMBLEBY
Are you holding out some promise to those pensioners who have lost out that they might get compensation for having misunderstood or having been given a document, which according to the judge, gave the clear impression that scheme members could be reassured that their pensions are safe whatever happens, do you say that they have got hope of compensation?

MURPHY
Well we've put £2 billion there already for some 40 - over 40,000 pensioners who have been affected and the Secretary of State made a statement in Parliament earlier in the week that we will come back with more specific proposals. And without being disrespectful to you Jonathan we'll make the statement to the House of Commons rather than to yourself on the radio this evening.

DIMBLEBY
Alex Salmond.

SALMOND
Well I'm trying to recover from being accused of soundbites by a member of the New Labour government. I'm leader of the Scottish National Party but for the second time in two weeks I want to salute the English High Court. Last week they struck down the government's ridiculous consultation - so called - on nuclear power stations and this week they've upheld justice, not just for four pensioners but for 125,000 pensioners affected. Now let's get down to the facts Jim. I've actually seen the letter, I don't know if you have, from the Department of Work and Pensions to Tom Walk, Henry Bradley, Rob Duncan and Andrew Parr - the four pensioners involved - in which the Department of Work and Pensions made it absolutely clear that if these pensioners went to the High Court to try and uphold their rights then they would be pursued to the nth degree for legal costs. Now if that Jim isn't threatening to bankrupt four pensioners then you tell me what is. And incidentally have you seen that letter or is that just something you wanted to explain you knew the complications of this case? Have you seen that letter - yes or no?

MURPHY
The letter to the four ...

SALMOND
The letter to the four pensioners which has been widely circulated to members of parliament, have you seen it Jim, are you in command of the facts of this case?

MURPHY
I am in command of the facts of this case ...

SALMOND
Have you seen the letter?

MURPHY
Alex if you stop heckling me just for two seconds that would be really helpful. Okay. Alex, the fact that you talk more than everyone else on the panel doesn't strengthen your case, it doesn't give you a stronger case. In terms of the detail of the case, I'm aware of the detail of the case ...

SALMOND
Have you seen the letter?

MURPHY
... Work and Pensions are aware of it and I've seen the correspondence, it's been circulated ...

SALMOND
You've seen that letter?

DIMBLEBY
Let the minister just finish his point.

MURPHY
... correspondence in all of the cases in respect of this. We've said Alex, we have said very clearly that we will honour the legal costs of those citizens - those pensioners who are affected, we're under no responsibility, I don't even think the judge said that we had to do it but we have said we will honour that and we will and we will come back to Parliament Alex and I hope you're there that day, you're very rarely in the House of Commons, but on the unlikely even that you're in Parliament on the day that we make the announcement Alex you'll be able to listen as we announce ...

DIMBLEBY
And that I'm afraid, although it would be very interesting to continue...

SALMOND
Jonathan just a second ...

DIMBLEBY
No, no not just a second. I - at this point, at this point - Alex Salmond, you will obey the rule of the chair, as you always want to do I know, because I'm going to go to the next question. I know you want to come in and we could have this discussion till the end of the programme but we're going to go to the next final question.

HALLIDAY
David Halliday. Which book has influenced you most?

DIMBLEBY
Which book has influenced you most? You can come in on that Alex Salmond.

SALMOND
A number - a number of books - How Labour ministers keep talking and then complain that other people don't get to speak - might be one. But I think probably Sunset Song, the trilogy, was not just the books that influenced me but in the days when the BBC, Jonathan, produced fantastic television programmes in Scotland BBC Scotland made the most remarkable adaptation and I just wish we could get back to the days where the BBC and indeed other broadcasters put on to our screens wonderful books like the Sunset Song trilogy. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Annabel Goldie.

GOLDIE
Well it may sound trite but for me it is the most important book, it's the Bible. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
And which book has most influenced you or been most important to you Jim Murphy?

MURPHY
It's a book that very few people I think in the audience or listening this evening will have heard of, it's a book called A Single Life. It's by a very good friend of mine, name of Revered Ernest Levy, he's a survivor of seven concentration camps from the holocaust and it's a remarkable story about his experiences but possibly more important about how he settled in the UK and in Glasgow for the last 40 years. And what is just so uplifting about the book is that despite going through seven concentration camps and all that that involved and incidentally meeting his wife in Auschwitz Birkenau and then both settling in Glasgow is the remarkable lack of any malice towards any other individual. And he's taken it upon in his life's role to try and build bridges and travel to Germany and build bridges amongst all sorts of different people from all sorts of different communities. And if there were more people like Ernest Levy in our country I think our country would be a much better place. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
And Jim Wallace.

WALLACE
Well assuming that we're flying by the rules of Desert Island Discs and it's except for the Bible and Shakespeare, which I think both would like Annabel would be on the list, I think looking back one of the books I read just as I was leaving university was Schumacher's Small is Beautiful. And I think those who are of that generation realised that here was a man who was probably ahead of his time, ahead of the time where they were talking about globalisation but recognised that maybe as keeping society together, keeping families together that in fact the small unit is one where people matter. And I think 30 - 30 years later from reading it I think all of us who are politicians should remember that small can indeed be very beautiful as we tackle major global challenges. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
And that I'm afraid very nearly brings us to the end of this week's programme. Next week we're going to be in the Barbican Centre in London with Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State; George Osborne, Conservative Shadow Chancellor; Don Foster who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on Culture, Media and Sport and the film director Ken Loach. Join us there. Don't forget Any Answers, a reminder once more of that number, 08700 100 444 and the e-mail address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. But from here in Eyemouth goodbye. [CLAPPING]

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