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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions? 25 January 2008
Chairman: Jonathan Dimbleby

PANELLISTS: John McFall
Theresa Villiers
Graham Sheffield
Quentin Letts

FROM: Brislington Enterprise College, Bristol


DIMBLEBY
Welcome to Brislington Enterprise College which is to the south east of Bristol, a comprehensive which has a little over 1100 pupils. Later this year it's going to move to brand new state of the art buildings which are described as modern flexible and technology rich. Meanwhile, we're in the, how can I put it, perfectly adequate school hall.

On our panel: John McFall, for the last six years, has chaired the Treasury Select Committee, which under his leadership has become known as McFall's Star Chamber. For example he recently accused the chief executive of Northern Rock as being "asleep at the wheel" and the former head of the Financial Services Authority as not just sleeping but comatose. Explaining this approach he says: "I want them to be alive and alert".

Theresa Villiers was an MEP before entering the House of Commons. After which she became Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, before taking up her present role as Shadow Secretary of State for Transport.

Graham Sheffield is the artistic director of the Barbican in London which, under his leadership, has an enviable worldwide reputation as a centre of excellence, innovation and diversity in almost every art form - music, dance, drama, opera, cinema, you name it. For all of this he's been honoured as a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des lettres. And a Chevalier de tasse de vin dordogne, as well. The last one sounds as if you can stay on a horse after a bottle of wine, what is it, is that what it is?

SHEFFIELD
Exactly what it is yes, yes.

DIMBLEBY
Oh really. Well congratulations from everyone I'm sure.

Quentin Letts made his name as a diarist and gossip columnist and went on to become the Daily Mail's parliamentary sketch writer where he's renowned for wielding an ascorbic and witty pen. He also doubles as his paper's theatre critic - so you've got a day job, a night job, when do you sleep, when you're doing both of them?

LETTS
I sleep during both of them.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. And he's the fourth member of our panel. [CLAPPING] Our first question please.

GILLSOF
Mark Gillsof. Peter Hain resigned yesterday amid controversy over donations to his Labour Party deputy leadership bid, should he have resigned sooner or should Gordon Brown acted more decisively and what should be done to ensure this is not repeated again?

DIMBLEBY
Quentin Letts.

LETTS
Yes he should have gone much earlier I think and I am surprised that the Prime Minister didn't realise this and didn't pull the cheese wire and put a stop to it much earlier. Now you can just take the view with Hain that he was absent minded and didn't realise what was going on but it strikes me that there's a tremendous amount of self delusion going on here. First of all there was the delusion that he had a chance of actually becoming deputy leader of the Labour Party, he never did have a chance at that and anybody could have told him that and I'm surprised they didn't. Second, he had no idea that it was wrong to raise that much money - a hundred thousand pounds, a heck of a lot of money - simply to become deputy leader of the Labour Party. A fairly small electorate, it's quite unnecessary and to my mind it's distasteful that he should have raised that much money. But also there was that business of him as Secretary of State for Wales, then giving - using his office to give endorsements to companies run by people who'd given him money. That is plain wrong in my view. It may be corrupt, it may not be corrupt but it just looks bad, it's a desperately bad mistake politically. And for that reason alone he should have gone. But also don't forget he was running the department of benefits, which was saying to people - you can't make any mistakes, you've got to tell us absolutely everything about your lives - what was the slogan - I can't remember - no ifs, no buts or something. No ifs, no buts also should have applied to Peter Hain, he should have gone much earlier. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
John McFall.

MCFALL
I think the train was coming down the track a few weeks ago and in retrospect perhaps he should have gone then. The issue of the think tank, there were certain questions that were left unopened and if questions can't be answered then the media have a field day and it goes on and on and on...

DIMBLEBY
This is the think tank through which a pretty significant proportion of the money that he got after the election campaign helped pay off his debts but the think tank itself has not produced any publications?

MCFALL
That's correct and there were questions - pregnant questions there. And you asked what he should have done, well perhaps everyone who was involved in it should have engaged an accountant and a lawyer so that the books are looked at, they're checked off and everything was legal and it was sent to the Electoral Commission and then sent to the Commissioner for Standards in the House of Commons.

DIMBLEBY
One of the questions was should Gordon Brown have acted more decisively.

MCFALL
Well I think he was giving Peter Hain the benefit of the doubt here, I don't think we could blame Gordon Brown from giving him the benefit of the doubt. But at the end of the day I think it was for Peter Hain himself to assess it and I think maybe a couple of weeks ago he should have come to that decision.

DIMBLEBY
Theresa Villiers.

VILLIERS
I think Peter Hain's been effectively a dead man walking for several weeks and I do agree that the Prime Minister should have acted much more decisively. He clearly dithered over this issue, on the one hand he was backing Peter Hain and on the other hand he suddenly comes out and says - blames him for incompetence. It's, I think, a huge concern, as Quentin's pointed out, Peter Hain was in charge of an incredibly important department of state, there are people - thousands of people sort of daily lives depend on the efficient functioning of the Department for Work and Pensions. Given the huge crisis we have in our pension system it's not acceptable for a department of that importance to be allowed to drift over weeks because the Prime Minister can't make up his mind about whether his Secretary of State is competent or not.

DIMBLEBY
Graham Sheffield.

SHEFFIELD
Yes I think Theresa's used the phrase dead man walking, I think it's been a bit more like the inevitability of a Greek tragedy moving towards its climax. Yes he should have gone sooner certainly, I think I agree with John that probably should - Gordon - Gordon Brown was giving him the benefit of the doubt. At the moment we're suffering from a really significant lack, I think, in the electorate in the political process and in MPs themselves I think broadly across the parties. And I really cannot believe that after all that's gone on over the last so many years that when MPs of any party get into the state of raising money they don't have at the very top of their priority list - when somebody sends me a cheque please remind me to declare it - this seems to me a pretty basic thing to do and yet it goes on and on and on. I mean thank goodness - we may come to this later - MPs have now voted not to vote themselves a pay rise, at least there seems to be some pennies dropping somewhere in the collective political mind. My main irritation that Peter Hain's actually gone is that the arts, as a result, have lost a first rate Secretary of State in James Purnell, who was doing rather a good job for about three weeks for a few months and has now gone to fill Peter Hain's post, so I'm afraid that we've lost a - time will tell how James Purnell replacement does but we're sad to see him go and that's my main irritation.

DIMBLEBY
Can I just come back to you on this, John McFall, how is it - to bring up Graham Sheffield's point - that MPs, a government, which writes very clear rules to avoid this kind of situation, MPs find it - what is it about MPs that they can't obey their own rules and can be so fancy free about the law?

MCFALL
Well it was this government that introduced these rules, that was the first thing, to make it more transparent...

DIMBLEBY
So why can't they stick - what's wrong with the MPs they can't stick to the rules easily if the rules are there?


MCFALL
I think, you know, if I have to give some defence for MPs, I would imagine Theresa would back me up on this, is that MPs lives are hugely busy, six, seven days a week and they become very fragmented and you move on from one issue to the next. But at the end of the day there are core issues, Jonathan, and core issues here are that any monies received have to be declared and there really isn't any excuse for that. But then ...

LETTS
Yes but the trouble with that is this was all happening of course at the same time that the self employed, for instance, having to get their tax returns in. If we, as self employed, make a mistake on our tax return we can't say oh we were going to get round to that, it was just - we were busy doing our job at the time - we can't use that excuse. And you have to also ask with politicians why do they need to raise so much money for campaigns, and it's not just the Labour Party - don't let's make the mistake of thinking that Hain and Labour are the only ones here, the Tories, everybody's bad, and the Lib Dems. And they use this money because they need to pay spin doctors, they need to pay for those ridiculous logos and they need to have all this promotional activity and it's really all to do - it's just gloss, it's part of a lie that they're using money - if you like the political equivalent of a fake suntan to bring us back to Peter Hain - but it's really - it's not - it's money being used to deceive the voters and that's why they need all this loot.

DIMBLEBY
Any excuse for the loot that causes these problems Theresa Villiers, because your party gets the loot as well?

VILLIERS
I think it's always going to be a reality that political parties will need to raise money to communicate with the electorate. But there simply is no excuse for Peter Hain failing to comply with the legal requirements for such significant sums. I mean I think everyone tried to give him the benefit of the doubt initially when it looked as if £5,000 hadn't been registered properly but this government passed these rules ...

DIMBLEBY
Just to go back to the point that the others - that Gordon - sorry that Graham was making. Whether it's £5,000 or £5 million if you break the law you break the law, if you disobey the rules you disobey the rules but the tax - the department that raises the tax from us doesn't say oh well it's only £5,000 you lost somehow or other therefore it's not a big problem, you're in very big soup. So why - it's almost as if some people - I mean a lot of the commentaries to the effect that somehow MPs appear to think that the rules are different for them, if it's a small failure it doesn't matter much.

LETTS
They do, I mean this is surely what's been going on here. If this had happened - if a self employed businessman or business woman says sorry I haven't declared something because I forgot they still get hit with a fine, they still get treated like criminals by the system, why doesn't it happen to MPs? Because they think they're different.

MCFALL
Well that's wrong actually Jonathan because as a taxpayer I have to put my returns in by the 31st January but if I don't put them in I'm fined £100 and in fact I did get an account through from Her Majesty's Revenue and Tax to pay quite a bill last year and when we took it to them they'd made a mistake, so there you are.

LETTS
The select committee will now enquire...

SHEFFIELD
No, John we've all got busy lives, I'm sure everybody in this room's got 60 million things to do, you said there's no excuse and some of the money they raise could have been spent on a research with a bit of post-it note that would have put on the top of Peter Hain's laptop - remember to declare the £5,000, it's not that difficult.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. We'll go to our next question.

SNOW
Alistair Snow. Should we continue to trust the banking system following recent fire fighting in the international money markets, events at Northern Rock and Society Generale - France's second biggest bank?

DIMBLEBY
Former Shadow Chief Secretary Theresa Villiers.

VILLIERS
Yes I think we can trust the banking system but it's clear that there are reforms that should be made to try and prevent the Northern Rock situation from happening again. And I think what is of huge concern to me that the Bank of England warned some time ago that there were gaps in the measures available to deal with a bank that gets into trouble and I think it's a matter of concern that the Prime Minister, then Chancellor, didn't take up these concerns and I am hugely worried that it's taken the government five months to reach a conclusion on what to do about Northern Rock. I mean if they'd acted more decisively in September, when the Prime Minister was obviously more concerned about whether he was going to hold a General Election or not, if they'd acted more decisively then maybe it wouldn't be the case that the taxpayer is left with a £55 billion bill.

DIMBLEBY
By doing what, Conservatives are constantly saying if he'd acted more decisively, what would you have had him done?

VILLIERS
Well I think they should have taken much more seriously the option of a Lloyds TSB buy out, which was on the table then and looks as if it could well have been practical. They should also have looked at the option of a Bank of England led reconstruction. Now that's what they're saying should happen potentially in future cases. Why didn't they have that measure in mind in this case because it would have enabled the Bank of England to go in to run the bank, to stabilise the situation but put the interests of taxpayers first whilst also behaving fairly to depositors and shareholders. It wouldn't have been a fire sale but it would have enabled the situation to have been stabilised, the bank to have been saved but I think without the huge bill it looks like the taxpayer is now going to be on the end of.

DIMBLEBY
Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee.

MCFALL
Well I actually think the banking system is in crisis. Look at the situation on Monday with Societe Generale, where with one trader responsible for £3.7 billion losses as a result the Federal Reserve took a panic measure and cut interests rate in the United States by 75 bases points. And the chief executive of Societe Generale - Daniel Bouton - had the cheek to say that we stress tested the bank and everything worked well. Well my god don't let him come near me in a Treasury committee hearing when he fails as a result of that. And banking is the only industry where the profits are privatised and the losses are socialised. And that is a unique situation and we have to device a situation where we allow banks to fail, it is the market they say that they're in, they have to be fail - they have to fail in an orderly way. But the depositors have to be protected ...

DIMBLEBY
And how can you - sorry - how can you allow it to fail and protect the depositors at the same time?

MCFALL
Well you can allow it to fail by having an organisation like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in America, which takes over a failing bank, establishes a bridge authority, has depositor protection scheme in place whereby deposits up to a certain level, in the United States $100,000 level, are protected and the depositors can get their money out and get it out instantly as a result of that. But the institution itself, the shareholders who are taking the risk, they fail as a result and we need a situation like that Jonathan. But if Northern Rock demonstrates anything it is that we in the United Kingdom don't have that and indeed many European countries don't have it because an enquiry that I am undertaking with the committee in relation to Northern Rock and financial stability we've visited Washington but also visited Europe and we need to do that in this country and work internationally to ensure that system is in place.

DIMBLEBY
But if you want protection for depositors who is going to have the - whose funds are going to be there to protect the depositors if the bank goes belly up?

MCFALL
Well we need to keep confidence in the banking system and it's for the banks to do that and I mentioned America - there is a depositor protection scheme in America where the banks fund that system, they've been doing it since the early 1980s and a pot of $50 billion has been built up as a result of that. And if banks fail in America then depositors with the deposits up to a certain level can get their money out.

DIMBLEBY
So what you want to see in your - as an individual MP and as chairman of the select committee is the creation of a structure which requires the banks, up front, to find many billions of pounds in order to protect depositors with any of their member banks?

MCFALL
Well I think there's merit in a pre-funded system Jonathan. But if we were say to start one in the United Kingdom then it could start off at a small level and the government could give assistance there. But if a bank's going to fail it'll fail at an inopportune time, it will fail when the market is down. So when there are good times let's ensure monies are put away so that when the lean times come it can be used.

DIMBLEBY
Just in shorthand: the banks have got to come up with an awful lot of money in the future, not necessarily next week or next year in order to protect depositors in advance from any failure of any of the banks?

MCFALL
Yeah, but it has to be at a certain level. Maybe it would bring in a bit of discipline in the banks to say look we'd better run our systems properly because the situation we see at the moment with investment banks have written off £60 billion is because of sheer recklessness and greed and that has to stop.

DIMBLEBY
And is that - because your report [CLAPPING] your report's coming out not many hours away from now is that correct?

MCFALL
Yes and I have to take a monastic vow of silence on it Jonathan.

DIMBLEBY
But I presume from what you've said, maybe wrongly, that the kind of thoughts you've been expressing are not inconsistent with what the report will say?

MCFALL
Well these are thoughts which we articulated during the evidence sessions Jonathan.

DIMBLEBY
Graham Sheffield.

SHEFFIELD
Well we've just talked about a trust in terms of MPs and the political process and trust in terms of the banking system. Actually I'm very reassured about what John has said there. I'm more worried about the bankers than the system, I mean who are these people out there? I mean they're supposed to be good managers, they're supposed to be good at managing risk. In the arts business I'm managing risk all the time with my managers and I think we do it actually rather better than most of the bankers I've seen recently in terms of managing risks. And the banks themselves also a bit like the MPs seem to be suffering from a certain PR issue in terms of their customers. They're well known for treating their customers, certainly the private ones, incredibly badly and levying really rather extraordinary charges. A couple of them last week told people that they couldn't take their money out for a bit, it was going to have wait six months, I mean whose money is it for goodness sake, I thought that was quite outrageous. And I think also we're struck really by the decision making process of some of these people in the banks, they seem to be driven by decisions that relate to short term gain and gain that is linked to their own performance and to their own - the size of the bonus packet at the end of the year, rather than for the long term good of the bank and the customers and the investors. So I have really real worries about the management - management of risk. What I would say is that I've learnt a huge amount about the system this week that I never knew about before and when I hear the word plain vanilla I'm going to be very careful about when I buy a vanilla ice cream in future in case I end up with a whole lot of worthless shares.

DIMBLEBY
Quentin Letts.

LETTS
I don't know about the international banking system being in crisis but I must say there have been times in my life when my own banking system has been in deep crisis and what tends to happen you tend to get terribly worried about, go to sleep and then the next morning you find that the sun still rises in the east and that the grandfather clock is still ticking and somehow life goes on. So that's my feeling about it. If you contemplate the banking system, the international banking system, too much I think you'll probably go mad, it's a bit like contemplating infinity and if you try to work out who actually started with the first pound coin or where does that first £5 note come in you do go bonkers I think. Whether or not you should trust this system I think is not really the question, if I might say to Mr Snow, because my feeling is that we have no alternative. The only alternative perhaps being to put your money, if you have any, under the mattress and if you don't have any well who are you going to borrow it from? But on the business of the French bank, that French geezer, I want to know how he got away with that because I wish my wine merchant would let me have that much on tap. And on the business of Northern Rock it strikes me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, watching him get stuck on this, is a bit like watching a daddy longlegs get stuck on one of those sticky fly papers. First one foot goes on and then it tries to move a bit and then a bit more of the leg goes on and before he knows it the poor creature is completely stuck - the whole body is stuck on there. And that's my feeling about poor old Alistair Darling, I think he must wish he'd never gone anywhere near the thing in the first place.

DIMBLEBY
Is - one of you used the phrase - is it right, I think you did John, that effectively Vince Cable's charge against the government solution that they have nationalised the risk and privatised the profit is a fair charge, that's what this situation now is?

MCFALL
Well we have the balance sheet of Northern Rock is nationalised, the liabilities are nationalised, so in that sense it's correct. And where I would like to see nationalisation still being a viable option here because at the end of the day the taxpayer has taken an awful lot of risk here. Why would I want to see nationalisation on the agenda because it could be that we have a system like the American system where if you like a bank if in critical care - temporary care - private management is putting in, going to be put in like Ron Sandler was going to be put in as chief executive if nationalisation took place and then a few years down the line it could be sold. And the taxpayer would then get the upside at the end of the day in that. If the downside is being presented to the taxpayer now why can't the taxpayer get the real upside when the bank is put back into private hands at the end of the day? I would like to see a private solution to it, the mechanism of that private solution - that's the issue here.

LETTS
But I think there's also though been a heavy politicisation in this decision and because Northern Rock was based in Newcastle in the North East and because a lot of the Labour Party's grandees come from that area as well I just get the impression that there's been slightly favourable treatment of the bank. If it had been called Southern Rock, if it had been based in Bristol would it have been treated that well? I don't think so.

DIMBLEBY
Well move on to our next please.

BROWN
Kevin Brown. How can this country meet its targets for carbon emissions if public transport fares are so high and the service is so unreliable that the only viable alternative is for people to travel by car?

DIMBLEBY
John McFall.

MCFALL
Well Kevin you do have an issue here but at the end of the day I think that climate change is one of the most serious issues which we have to face and we will all have to do something about that and bite the bullet a bit. But can that not go alongside a good transport system? Yes it can do. For example coming down for this programme today I was on business in Glasgow and I got the ten past twelve train at Glasgow Central Station and I drew in to my destination two minutes early. Now I think that's good. So the transport system in this country does work well on occasions but we need to ensure that it works well all the time. So I'm with you in needing to make sure it works well all the time but if we forget about climate change and if all of us don't give up some little things in the future then the future generations will be penalised.

DIMBLEBY
But the point that - correct me, you'll put me right Mr Brown, if I'm wrong - the point was if it's so expensive that when you should be going by train in order to cut the carbon emissions you actually end up going by car then you're cutting off your face to spite your nose in terms of solving the problem.

MCFALL
Yeah we all depend on the car but I think we'll have to get off the car a bit. But if there's no viable alternative to the car with public transport then we go by it. But quite a number of us have a viable alternative and we don't take it. I mean in my own area - I come from Dunbarton, that's my constituency, in the West of Scotland, I live there - we have four trains an hour going to Glasgow, 14 miles away, an excellent public service but there are still many people who just for convenience sake take the car. Well I think these decisions have to be addressed in the future.

DIMBLEBY
Graham Sheffield.

SHEFFIELD
I think the key words that John McFall said were on occasion the public transport system works okay. It really is pretty disgraceful, I think, really on the whole in this country compared to the rest of Europe the public transport system - and I travel round quite a bit - is really not very good. I mean the trains - you go to Switzerland, you go to France, you go wherever - they all seem to work much better and we just don't seem to be able to get the simple things right and that's what I think bothers me so much. And it's expensive as well, so you're getting a worse service and you're paying more for it. I think on the issue - Mr Brown - of the - we just have to reach our targets. I mean I'm relieved now that green politics, which 15 years ago - I remember my father once said well I'm going to vote for the Green Party and I thought he was a bit of - a bit like voting for Screaming Lord Sutch. Now green politics are part of the mainstream of all the parties, we have to recognise that's a step forward. We have to try with the carbon emissions, we have to try with the targets and I know the local issue down here in terms of the new Severn Barrier that's being proposed which is scheduled to make about 4.5%, if it's built, of all the UK's electricity needs, it will - it has an environmental implication but it seems to me that the marsh lands and the wetlands that are going to be damaged and the birds that are going to be damaged by that, they're going to be damaged by global warming anyway so we might as well try and get the carbon emissions down, built that and look after the environment, try and find a way to minimise any damage to the environment, otherwise we're all in the soup frankly, we've really got to get a grip.

DIMBLEBY
Quentin Letts.

LETTS
I don't know, I also would be quite in favour of the Severn Barrage but that may be a very difficult thing to say here, I don't know. I couldn't really care less about the birds because I think there are quite enough of them, oh gosh, I've done it - the RSPB is going to be upset. I'm also very much in favour of those wind farm things, which I know mince birds like mad, so that's probably going to upset the RSPB even more. I've got a very strong view about green issues, I suppose we all believe the green thing, we're told by the scientists it's true, so I suppose I believe it. I would turn out all the street lights in Britain, including those ones along the motorways and if that's considered dangerous I would at least turn out half of them. And I can't see why that we have to have so many street illuminations.

DIMBLEBY
Would the same apply to office lights in cities?

LETTS
Yes, I would really - the politicians are always telling us that in our homes we have to have these special ecofriendly bulbs which don't throw out particularly good light, okay well we'll do that provided that they turn off half of the municipal lights, it's a complete waste of money. If you go out at night - 3 o'clock in the morning - you see half of - if you fly over Britain late at night you see the whole thing is lit up like a Christmas tree and it's quite unnecessary, I wish they'd just turn them off.

DIMBLEBY
Let me just ask our audience, who would be, in this area, in favour of the lights - all the lights going out - to coin that phrase - in order to diminish the carbon output, who would be in favour of that or a significant proportion of them? Hands up. Who would not be in favour? Well a surprisingly - I would say there was about 60/40, 65/35 here on that. Sorry carry on.

LETTS
My other great idea on this, which nobody ever says, is - I sound like a complete loony here - but I would also ...

DIMBLEBY
Are you suggesting that for the first time in your life?

LETTS
Well used to it. But you know zoning laws, planning laws, I would change them or alter them and allow city centres, town centres, in this country - a lot of these shops nowadays aren't used very much, a lot of them seem to me are a complete waste of time because people go to out of town supermarkets and things like that, so change the town centre shops back into houses and then people wouldn't have to go so far to get to the office. And I can't see why we have to have all our town centres as shopping zones, I'd turn them back into houses. But that's my little view anyway.

DIMBLEBY
I'm not going to go to the audience on that one in case you - in case you lose the credit you earned in the previous round. Theresa Villiers.

VILLIERS
Well I thought it was telling that John got a sort of an echo of rather embittered and hollow laughter when he was saying how reliable the public transport system is, I think that shows that you don't live anywhere near the Great Western line which is - on which the service is unacceptably poor. And I think I agree with the premise of the question, it's critically important we provide reliable and reasonably priced public transport alternatives to the driver. Without those - without that we stand very little chance of reaching our CO2 cut targets. Now there are many, many ways we have to address ...

DIMBLEBY
Just remind us - which government was it that privatised the system which is now so, by your own account, inefficient and expensive? [CLAPPING]

VILLIERS
The Conservative government privatised the system but if one looks around much of the country the private sector train operating companies are providing some excellent services. There are weaknesses and clearly First Great Western is one of the most poorly performing train operating companies and something has to be done about that. But one of the key problems with our rail network today is the operation of Network Rail which is actually that part of the rail network which the government re-nationalised. Network Rail is not sufficiently accountable to its customers, it's not sufficiently focused on keeping costs down, therefore costs are spiralling and that's putting real pressure not just on the taxpayer but on the fare payer as well.

DIMBLEBY
And you've got a solution that that - privatise it?

VILLIERS
We need to find ways to make Network Rail more accountable to its customers, so we're not talking about winding the clock back and recreating Rail Track. But, for example, at the moment the regulators main sanction against Network Rail when it doesn't perform, for example, over New Year's Eve is to fine it and the taxpayer picks up the bill for the fine. Now that isn't - that's not a great sanction, so why not give the regulator greater powers actually to confiscate the bonuses of the senior management, if they don't perform and if they don't take account of what passengers actually want?

DIMBLEBY
Is that now the policy of your party - to punish the bonuses, punish the people who are running the system by their bonuses?

VILLIERS
We'd certainly like to see the regulator have greater powers over the senior - over this kind of issue, I think there are some powers already that the regulator has but they should be used more proactively and I think there is a good case for strengthening them.

DIMBLEBY
You'd look rather favourably on that wouldn't you John McFall? Were you listening carefully?

LETTS
Wake up McFall.

DIMBLEBY
Are you alert Mr McFall?

SHEFFIELD
Once he's sorted out the banks he can go and sort out the sort out the transport system.

MCFALL
I thought - you know I don't want to be unkind to Theresa but I thought she was ranting a little bit there.

DIMBLEBY
We'll leave that with an invitation to anyone to - including First Great Western - to ring in to Any Answers after the Saturday edition of Any Questions. The number to ring is 08700 100 444 and the e-mail address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. That's after the Saturday broadcast. Our next question please.

THOMAS
David Thomas. What sort of impact do you think the London Olympics will have on the arts both locally and nationally?

DIMBLEBY
Graham Sheffield.

SHEFFIELD
I think, first of all, I think the fact that we've got the Olympics in London will be a benefit not only for London but also for the whole of the country, so I think number one it's great. I think as far as I know - as far as I'm involved which is quite a lot the cultural community of all kinds, of every single kind, every single art form, are really enthused by the notion of the 2012 Olympics as an opportunity to showcase the culture of this country. We have a fantastic range of companies, artists, innovators in all disciplines and I think everybody sees this as a major opportunity. I know there are lots of people around London planning different areas where they're going to be operating, not only in 2012 but also in the run up to 2012 and post 2012. So it has been a great energising factor in the cultural community. The problem is there isn't any money. Of course we've all seen the lottery raids on the - to help pay for the Olympic budget which is quite clearly is a global budget out of control, at least it appears to me to be out of control and you know that what's going to be paid for first is the buildings and the sports and anything - there's no money there at the moment, or very little, to help pay for the level of cultural activity that I think would be a real benefit to this country and to the people that live here and all the communities. So I would like to see in the run up the arts community doing all they can but I would like to see a greater spirit of collaboration with the powers that be in order to see that we can do our best to bring the culture of this country to the whole word.

DIMBLEBY
Isn't that slightly a sort of perspective whinge in the normal way we'd like the money please?

SHEFFIELD
No, no, no, no it's not a whinge at all, I'm saying we're doing what we can and we will do what we can within the budgets we've got ..

DIMBLEBY
But will it be diminished and inferior if you don't get the money?

SHEFFIELD
It'll be - well you can't - it won't be as good as it could be if we actually have a bit more. I mean there's a question of how much of the sponsorship money that's being raised for the Olympics might actually be able to come and help the arts. I think we will do our best to raise money but actually I think given the amount that's going into the sport it would certainly be helpful if some came the way of culture. And I think the two - everybody has always wanted it not to be a competition between sport and culture, there are many synergies between the two in terms of training, education, quality of life and so on. Let's try and work on this together but we have to have a realistic budget for culture which we can then go out and raise more money against and then do a fantastic ... we want to do our best, it's not a whinge.

DIMBLEBY
Theatre critic - Quentin Letts.

LETTS
Oh you mean me?

DIMBLEBY
Well you call yourself a - many people think you are.

LETTS
I was just thinking about the Olympics. My feeling about the Olympic Games is that it should be about games, it should be about sport, it should be about men running the 100 yards or the 100 metres and it should be about enormous Russian women putting the shot and it shouldn't be - at least we think they're women - and it shouldn't be - it shouldn't be about the arts. And it horrifies me when this whole thought of the cultural olympiad gives me a bit of a shiver. And ...

SHEFFIELD
Oh come on Quetin the Athenians used to do it with culture, I mean you know the whole thing is ...

LETTS
Yes but the Athenians were rather better than that man - [name] or whatever it was who used to run. And then we get on to the gruesome business of the Olympic Games opening ceremony which you always - I suppose we're going to have to go through the whole thing ourselves in 2012, you have women in national dress - I don't know what they're going to do for ... then you have this sort of multi ethnic soup of a dance always and then you have children who are used horribly, always children isn't it, and they're watched by these slightly sweaty dignitaries who are all dressed in blazers. And that to my mind is what the Olympic and arts would be. And the trouble with this, of course, the trouble with a cultural olympiad and this terrible business that's going on is it's draining money away from already, even though it's still several years away, it's draining money away from the regional arts in this country, particularly places like - get in a local reference here - the Bristol Old Vic, which is a super theatre in its day [CLAPPING] and you can be sure that if it wasn't for those London Olympics coming up I bet the Old Vic would not have had its grant cut and I regret that.

DIMBLEBY
[CLAPPING] Lights out in Bristol, lights on in the Bristol Old Vic. We might pick up on the Old Vic - I'll come to you in a moment Theresa Villiers - on the Old Vic - is money being drained, I mean there's this huge row going on at the moment between some of the acting profession and the Arts Council and some theatres who feel they've lost all their money. Are theatres, like the Bristol Old Vic, which at the moment is temporarily at least closed, losing out because the money is going into, for instance, the sporting arm or not?

SHEFFIELD
No I mean Quentin it was a very, very eloquent piece about children and gentlemen in sweaty blazers and so on. I don't think that's got anything to do with the cultural.. it certainly won't have anything to do with my cultural programme in the Olympiad. We're after rather more. And I think all the people that are designing the ceremonies, I've seen those ceremonies before and they're absolutely gruesome, you're quite right, and I think part of the reason for culture wanting to become involved is that we believe here that we can do them a lot better than they can anywhere else. I think there has been money taken away from the arts for the Olympiad but any kind of correlation between the Bristol Old Vic and the Olympics is purely fictitious. As I understand it, and I'm very glad to hear it from various phone calls I've been making over the past few days, I think it's highly likely - and absolutely right - that the Bristol Old Vic will reopen with its Arts Council grants and its capital programme complete and nobody could be more delighted than me. It's - it's a great theatre with a national/international reputation and I don't think any sane bureaucratic - artistic or otherwise - would think of cutting that.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. Theresa Villiers.

VILLIERS
It must - the overrun at the Olympics must be having an impact on funding for the arts. It can't be a coincidence that suddenly, what, 194 major arts projects have had their grants summarily cut. And I mean the fact remains that the government has allowed the Olympics budget to more than treble since they initially agreed the budget and they - in that initial estimation they didn't seem to take into account VAT or a contingency or make any kind of realistic estimate of the security costs. And it is these wonderful cultural projects which are suffering. I mean not just the Bristol Old Vic but the Northcut Theatre in Exeter - there's a whole range of them across the country. And I think it's very sad that they are paying the price for the government's failure to manage the Olympic budget in a sensible way.

SHEFFIELD
Jonathan can I just say - could I just say, I mean it is a correction - the arts actually got more money in the public spending round this time than inflation, it was actually rather a decent settlement for the arts. So there wasn't a suggestion that the arts were cut in the public spending round to pay for the Olympics, this is not the case. What has happened, unfortunately, is yes there are some companies who are having intending - intended to have their grants reduced but there are an awful lot more who are going to be increased and an awful lot of new exciting companies and artists who are going to be coming on to the regularly funded organisations. The Arts Council ....

LETTS
Yeah but it's the question of who chooses ...

SHEFFIELD
Yes but it was a question about the Olympics. But I mean what's happened is that the Arts Council, sadly, in all its qualities allowed what is actually a good news story here to be turned into a completely bad news story and they need..

LETTS
Yes but what happens - what happens Graham is the Arts Council has become so politicised and there's a particular type of art that they seem to like and to get the grants, if you're an arts organisation, you have to jump through all sorts of hoops as to the type of approach you're going to take - are you going to be inclusive? Now inclusive, we all know, is another word for multicultural. To my mind that is from a particular part of the political angle. And if you are right wing arguably you get much less than if you're left wing. Can you imagine, I'm not necessarily saying this will be a good idea, can you imagine a play or a theatre which was supporting a play in favour of the British National Party, can you ever imagine that getting a grant - no we can't, we probably wouldn't want that happening. But can you imagine a play that was supporting the IRA getting a grant? Yes you jolly well can. And that, to my mind, is the problem here - the politicisation of the public money going to the arts.

DIMBLEBY
I will bring you in in a second John to take an overall treasury picture if you like but just on that - we slightly drifted but it's interesting.

SHEFFIELD
It is drifting. I mean - Quentin it's a very - it's a very - it's a very, forgive me, a very Daily Mailish sort of view of the arts funding system funding here.

LETTS
Yeah but it doesn't mean it isn't true.

SHEFFIELD
You are playing your stereotype so well you might even get an Arts Council grant for it. I mean it's the performance ..

LETTS
It's still true.

SHEFFIELD
You know ticking boxes was actually yesterday's story, we've moved on for that, so what you have to do - what you have to do now is to get - is to be excellent and not actually to tick boxes.

LETTS
But the problem is that the ticking - the politicisation, the poor old Bristol Old Vic I saw a few shows there and I'm afraid there was always a feeling that because they were trying to tick these boxes they were trying to do the certain things that the Arts Council was imposing on them, they therefore weren't getting the audiences...

SHEFFIELD
I think where you may have the minute-ist point is that the Arts Council, in its needs to reconnect more with the profession and to take out one of the recommendations of the Brian McMaster Report on Excellence, which is to go for a lot more peer assessment and peer recognition, i.e. artists deciding about the arts.

DIMBLEBY
We have moved, as we said, a little way from the original question - arts and the Olympics - John McFall.

MCFALL
Well I don't think the Olympic budget is out of control, I think it's too early to make any comment on that. But I take Graham's point that I think we should have the Athenian principle of arts and sports being together and I welcome the Olympics, even though I represent a constituency which is 400 miles to the north of it. But I think it can have an effect, not just in London but also it would raise sports up and there could be excellence in sports on a national level. I mean in Glasgow, adjacent to me, we will have the Commonwealth Games in 2014, they're going to take place in the East End of Glasgow, just like the East End of London. Now it's run down but that could be regenerated not just physically regenerated but the kids in their could be regenerated. And Jonathan I taught in a school in Glasgow in the 1970s, when I was a deputy head, and it was in what one would call at the time a very poor supposedly deprived area but it ran an orchestra in the school because of a very talented music principal and it was a joy to see the kids going across there with their violin cases and their drum kits and whatever else it is, the result now that I get an odd letter from one or two of the kids in that area who'd never thought they'd have the opportunity to get anywhere but two of them are opera singers and two or three of them belong as musicians to orchestras. So let's keep the arts and the sports together and don't separate them, that's my message.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. Just one more chance to give you the e-mail address 08700 100 444 is of course the phone number for Any Answers and the e-mail address is any.answers@bbc.co.uk. We just have swiftly time for one more question.

WATSON
Norma Watson. My love is like a red, red rose, wrote Robert Burns, how would you describe your love?

DIMBLEBY
Burns night being in your mind of course. Theresa Villiers.

VILLIERS
Well I think that question's got me completely flawed actually. I think I'll pass on that question because I happen to be single at the moment so I haven't got anyone to direct it to, so I don't think it really applies for me.

DIMBLEBY
There are all kinds of loves - there are all kinds of loves, not only for a partner aren't there?

VILLIERS
Indeed, indeed.

DIMBLEBY
You don't want to find a term to define the quality of that love.

VILLIERS
I think I might sound a bit cheesy if I did to be honest.

DIMBLEBY
Very well. Graham Sheffield.

SHEFFIELD
My love would be a very - particularly on Burns night - would be a very fine single malt from the Isle of Isla and I intend as I get home tonight to pour myself a measure - a large measure - of one of them.

DIMBLEBY
John McFall.

MCFALL
Yeah when I go to London tonight I will have a large talisker because I was supposed to be at a Burns supper tonight so my love for Bristol tonight has overtaken my love for Burns. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Quentin Letts.

LETTS
The way those two are going on about whisky I think should be - my love has got a red, red nose I think. I would simply say that my love is like my wife.

DIMBLEBY
That does leave open the option that it's not your wife. But anyway we're leave that right there. We are going to be in Rotherham next week, in South Yorkshire, with amongst others John Tusa who chairs the University of the Arts in London; Eric Pickles who's the Shadow Secretary of State for Community and Local Government and Steve Webb for the Liberal Democrats. Join us there. From here in Brislington Enterprise College goodbye. [CLAPPING]
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