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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions?  30 May 2008


PRESENTER: Eddie Mair


PANELLISTS: Germaine Greer
Malcolm Wicks
Norman Lamb
Nick Herbert

FROM: St Andrew's Parish Church, Rugby, Warwickshire


MAIR
Hello and welcome to Any Questions from St Andrew's Parish Church in Rugby in Warwickshire. For a brief moment this week when something from earth landed on Mars we had a fleeting opportunity to forget our worldly troubles, catching a glimpse of a far off planet where as far as we know there's no energy crisis, no knife crime and no Jeremy Clarkson doing 186 miles an hour on a public road. Those are some of this week's news stories but what's on the minds of our audience members here in Rugby we'll find out in a moment. The questions are entirely theirs, the panel members do not know what's coming next.

Germaine Greer is here. Her most famous work is The Female Eunuch, though her latest book Shakespeare's Wife, appropriately for Warwickshire, unpicks the myths surrounding Anne Hathaway. Recently in the Guardian she declared that while she'd said some very mean things about Victoria Beckham in the past, and she stood by them, Posh Spice flair for fashion made her an artist in the same genre as Damian Hurst.

Norman Lamb speaks for the Liberal Democrats on health. He was a thorn in the side of Gordon Brown long before the fuel crisis. He's described as terrier like in his pursuit of information about who's been meeting Mr Brown, using freedom of information laws to keep tabs on him.

Nick Herbert is the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice who's less interested in who Mr Brown meets than what he says about crime. He accused him of not making a speech on the subject during nearly a year in office. Nick Herbert helped launched the No campaign against the euro and formed the Countryside Movement, which became the Countryside Alliance.

Malcolm Wicks is probably less interest in who Gordon Brown meets and what he thinks about crime, given that he's Mr Brown's energy minister. It's been quite a week with the government committing more wholeheartedly than ever to nuclear power, we had more fuel protests and prices rising so fast even Jeremy Clarkson couldn't catch them. He's a prolific academic author and before entering the Commons was director of the Family Policy Studies Centre. And that's our panel. [CLAPPING]

And our first question please.

BEACH
The Reverend Mark Beach. Having taken the funeral earlier today of a 20-year old man who died of stab wounds inflicted outside this church, I wonder what advice the panel can give to local people seeking to create safer communities for both young and old?

MAIR
Clearly people here in the church will need no reminding of the incident you're talking about, there are flowers on the railings outside, this was Kevin Wright, who was stabbed earlier this month. Can you just give us some idea of the effect all of that's had on everyone?

BEACH
I've been struck by the outpouring of love within this community, people who knew Kevin and people who didn't, if you look on Facebook and other websites you'll see the comments. But there's also a sense of fear in this community, fear of going out at night and that's not just older people, it's young people as well. And this is something I believe we need to address.

MAIR
Well thank you for that, I should just say someone has been charged with murder in connection with what happened to Kevin Wright. And just to repeat the Reverend's question: I wonder what advice the panel can give to local people seeking to create safer communities for both young and old? Nick Herbert.

HERBERT
Well I deeply sympathise with the family of Kevin Wright and with the community, it's obviously a shocking incident and a tragic loss of life of a 20 year old young man and it is of course one of a string of such incidents. During the local elections I was canvassing in London in the Bexley borough and after canvassing found myself with some of the locals in a bar, called the Metro Bar, a suburban part of London, a quiet part of London and four weeks later I woke up to the news that another young man had been stabbed to death in this bar. Knife crime is not got up by the media, there is good evidence that knife crime is on the increase. One of our most senior judges in the country has said that it has reached epidemic proportions, the Lord Chief Justice has said that it's going up, the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office has said that it's going up. And we're told that only about 4% of young people admit to carrying a knife but actually when you think about it that's half a million young people in our country who are carrying knives. And yet less than 8,000 people have been found guilty of that offence. Now the Prime Minister months ago talked about zero tolerance of knife crime and I think we need to ask the question: What does zero tolerance mean? It should mean society coming together and saying we just don't think it's acceptable for young people to carry knives. And after all we've actually had zero tolerance in relation to other forms of behaviour, we have zero tolerance of drink driving, through a combination of tougher penalties, through social action and disapproval, through advertising campaigns yes, we have actually done a huge amount to reduce that particular scourge. But I don't think that as a society collectively we've been tough enough about the enforcement in relation to knife crime. And I do think that when we have about a third of the offenders who are being stopped only given a caution then frankly that is not enough of a penalty or a deterrent. So I think there should be much tougher penalties, both robust community penalties and if necessary a prison sentence for those carrying knives. We have to send this strong signal. And of course there needs to social action too, I fully accept that, there are the long term things we need to do in terms of strengthening families and welfare reform and education, we'd agree about all of those things but they don't preclude tough action, they don't preclude having police officers on the streets, answering to the local community and making people feel safer again. If we're going to talk about zero tolerance then as political leaders let us mean what we say and ensure that there is in the future zero tolerance of carrying a knife. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
Germaine Greer.

GREER
I think in some ways we are interpreting the epidemic of knife crime as a sign of something that is going to go on getting worse and worse and worse, a new scourge that has befallen society. I hope we're not right about that because it seems to me that if forms part of a continuum with a kind of behaviour that we can expect from young men, in particular, and it's useless telling them how dangerous it is. I once spent the entire journey from Holy Island to Cambridge trying to persuade one of my godsons that he should not carry a knife on a Saturday. He was 15 at the time. I'm sure I didn't convince him at all. I was principally worried because he was so clumsy and forgetful that he was going to sit on it or something. I didn't ever think he'd stick a knife in anybody, and sure enough he never did, and I didn't manage to persuade him that just having it could give him ultimately a criminal conviction and ruin his whole life and that it wasn't protecting him because a hidden weapon cannot protect anyone. If nobody had known we had nuclear weapons there would have been no nuclear deterrent. The problem about knife crime, as it's developing, is that we have these scuffles involving numbers of young people, somebody's on the floor, nobody's very clear about who did what to whom and it's all a frightful mess. But I think it fits in with other things that young people do, with boy racers, for example, they take the most insane and deliberate risks. They used to play chicken when cars would drive at each other and the first person to break was the person who was chicken or they would drive at a cliff or something like that. This kind of behaviour is attractive precisely because it's crazy and dangerous. And one of the things about it is that it comes in fashions. I'm old enough to remember when we all thought that fighting with a knife was not British, British people fought with their fists and only swarthy people of uncertain derivation used a knife and no Englishman would descend so low. Now clearly that has changed and now carrying a knife is glamorous. What's needed here is a bit of outsmarting - we need to make it clear that knives aren't glamorous, that they're ugly, stupid and that it's not brave to be caught up in situations where knives are involved, it's simply chaos and madness. But the real challenge is our kids are supervised, they're watched over, they're photographed, they're tracked, they're ID'd, they're numbered, they need adventure, that's the challenge. What adventure can we give them? What are the big challenges? What are the things that will give them their requisite need to feel that they are taking risks, that they're overcoming, that they're developing courage and strength and daring? I know it sounds idiotic but young people are idiotic and that's what we have to understand. This is a fashion. I'm sure when John Preston said that he suffered from bulimia, bulimia went out of fashion overnight. Perhaps we could get him to say that he used to pack a knife, you never know your luck.

MAIR
Nick Herbert. [CLAPPING] Sorry beg your pardon, Norman Lamb.

LAMB
Well my heart goes out to the family and indeed to the local community that's been affected by this awful tragedy and in a way it doesn't fit perhaps the normal pattern. We hear a lot about gun crime and knife crime in our inner cities and we hear about gang warfare but here this is happening in a town like Rugby and it just seems so shocking. And I think the first thing I'd say I guess is that we all have a responsibility here. I'm a parent, I'm a parent of a teenage boy. Our older son had a team mate in his football team who was stabbed in the toilets in a school in Suffolk. These are shocking incidents and luckily that boy survived but very many don't. So we all have a responsibility as members of society. But government clearly does also have a role. The penalties do have to be tough because this is violent crime that we're talking about and as Nick says we do have to send out a very clear message that it is completely unacceptable to carry a knife.

MAIR
Does the law do that at present, is that the message?

LAMB
Well I think it does to some extent but I think it perhaps needs to be reinforced. But the point I was also going to make is that it's not actually much of a deterrent if the conviction rate is so low - only 1% of crimes end in a conviction in this country. And so if you know that you're not going to get caught then it's not much of a deterrent, even if the potential penalty is very high. And that's why I think it's incredibly important to develop far more community policing - getting police out of cars, getting them on foot in these communities, getting them to know the youngsters who may be likely to cause these problems in the first place, going back to, in a sense, old fashioned community policing I think would make a very big difference. The final thing I'd say is that education, I think, is also terribly important. I had a very inspiring visit to a school in Barking in the East End of London, the school was Robert Clack and the head teacher there has transformed a very under performing school into one of the best schools in this country in a very difficult community and he said to me that he broken the gang culture in that school when he arrived and that that was the most important thing he had to do, as well as re-professionalising the staff. But now those children have a sense of achievement in that school, they're getting qualifications and they're doing very well. And they start to see a future, which in many cases in these inner cities children simply do not see. So there is a combination of tough penalties but also much more work on detection, much more community policing but also just to remember that old phrase of the former Prime Minister, tackling the causes of crime, we have to do far more to inspire children, getting in early to give them a real future.

MAIR
Malcolm Wicks.

WICKS
... normally on a Friday evening I'm not here, I'm doing my vice surgery in Croydon and as a constituency MP the thing I worry most about now is this kind of violence, occasioned by the knife but also sadly too often by the gun, often with no more than children using guns, allied very often to a growth of a new and vicious gang culture involving boys, men and sometimes girls and young women. It's at the top of my worry list. And we've got to ask ourselves two questions, I mean one is how do we deal with it in the short term but secondly what's causing all of this? Now ...

MAIR
And actually the question is what advice do you have for local people who want to create safer communities - that's the question.

WICKS
Well I think - I think my advice is that they need to be supported by - and I'm not saying they're not - but by a judiciary, by a court system, that takes knives very seriously. Now Parliament has recently legislated that the maximum sentence can be four years for using/carrying a knife.

MAIR
Is that tough enough?

WICKS
Well I think if it's implemented it probably is tough. Now it's not for politicians to second guess judges but I think communities would like to see courts take this as seriously as the public now take it. I think if you're carrying a knife there's every possibility that that knife will be used on someone else or on yourself and I think in the normal circumstance if you're caught carrying a knife I think there should be a prison sentence. Now the second issue is what is causing all of this, now that's not an easy question to answer because actually there are a lot of kids, middle class kids as it were, well to do kids, who carry knives as well as kids who've been brought up in more difficult circumstances. But on the latter I think we've just got to look at some fundamental questions and I see now cohorts of children who are brought up in the most chaotic family circumstances, without any father figure of any repute or any father figure at all, no role model there, no one worrying whether 13 or 14 - why the 13 or 14 year old is out on the streets at midnight or thereafter. And I think there are some profound questions about family and community which are more difficult I think than the question about what we should do with it. And I ...

MAIR
Just on the subject of law, would you like to see anyone found carrying a knife get a jail sentence - is that what you said?

WICKS
Yes I think that should be the principle. Now if there's the most extraordinary circumstance - the lad was going fishing or something - yes I mean the courts have got to look at each case individually. But I see now a rising number of knife crimes, it's staining our communities and I think we've got to put an end to it in a quite tough minded way by sentencing. I'm not really an advocate of prison sentences where there are alternatives but I think we've got to really stop this one now and it needs some exemplary sentences in my judgement.

MAIR
Well just watching Germaine Greer's eyebrows during that answer, I think she ...

GREER
Can I just remind you that there was a time when every boy had a knife, he had his clasp knife, he had his scout knife, he whittled sticks, he did all sorts of things with his knife. I don't understand ...

LAMB?
... the intent wasn't there to use it to inflict a severe injury.

GREER
This is precisely my point but we always do this, we always inculpate the instrument instead of considering what it is the instrument has become lethal. That a boy and a knife was not a terrifying proposition even 20 years ago. Why - and remember that these are kitchen knives that these kids are taking, they haven't even got a clasp knife or the kind of knife that everybody had when I was growing up.

MAIR
Nick Herbert.

HERBERT
Well on that logic you would allow people to carry guns as they do in the United States and I don't accept that logic. Where there are weapons like this we should prohibit their use. But I welcome what Malcolm said about tough enforcement. What I'd like to know is that when the government has today announced that it has released 26,000 prisoners early, in less than a year, because it has inadequate jail capacity and 5,000 of those were violent offenders, how can he in the same breath talk about tougher sentences and imprisonment for knife crime?

MAIR
Just on sentencing by the way, since everyone seems to be talking about tough sentences, jail people if they're found with a knife, would you go along with that?

HERBERT
Parliament last year said that the maximum penalty for possession of a knife should be increased from two to four years. Certainly jail should be an option but also a tough community penalty. But that has to be a tough penalty, not an unenforced penalty. If we had young men who actually had to do tough community work, wearing high visibility overalls so that there was stigma about it, that would be a punishment equivalent to going to jail but not a weak community penalty which is not enforced.

MAIR
Norman Lamb.

LAMB
I just want to also raise the influence of alcohol in all of this because we're seeing quite dramatic increases in violent crime amongst young people and there is a clear link often with the consumption of alcohol. And if you go into many of our cities and towns on a Friday or Saturday night they can be very frightening places to be and it's often fuelled by the consumption of far too much alcohol and all too often licensed premises behave irresponsibly in allowing people to drink far too much.

MAIR
Just before we leave this topic [CLAPPING] Malcolm Wicks, the question directly to you from Nick Herbert was, in essence, if you care so much about stopping violent crime why is the government letting violent criminals out early?

WICKS
I just thought - I was trying to answer the question honestly and I think that there should, in normal circumstances, be a prison sentence for people carrying knives. There's a wider issue about the numbers in prison and what we do about that. But Germaine I do understand that - there was a time when cubs and boy scouts and maybe the equivalent girl guides would have a knife and chip away at a bit of wood, that is a million miles away from where we are now. In my part of London there are well organised gangs, the leaders are known as generals, they use the internet, they use texting to organise bundles and fights with rival gangs and too often knives are worse there and too often in my part of London, but not only in my part of London, as the clear tragedy here in Rugby shows, children, young people, are being killed by other children or young people. It's a serious issue and I think it needs some quite stern solutions.

MAIR
Thank you for all of that. Of course after the Saturday edition of Any Questions it's Any Answers, I suspect you may well have a view on what you've just been hearing, if you'd like to share it with us the telephone number is 08700 100 444, that's 08700 100 444 or drop us an e-mail any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Let's have our next question.

ACFORD
Brian Acford. Can we expect a U turn on motoring taxes?

MAIR
Malcolm Wicks.

WICKS
I thought this might come up. Well there are different kinds of taxes. On the fuel duty, which has occasioned much comment and controversy this week, in April when it was going to go up by 2 pence the Chancellor decided that that wasn't appropriate because the circumstances we're in - rising prices of oil - and said that he'd make a decision in the autumn on that. Now the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, said only a couple of days ago on the radio that coming up to October he would make his judgement about what to do and I think that's sensible because actually the price of a barrel of oil has been increasing very dramatically but these things can fluctuate....

MAIR
What about vehicle excise duty, which will be changed from next April and be retrospective to the beginning of the decade?

WICKS
Well no, you see I start from a point here - I mean I realise the difficulties people are facing now with rising prices - but I start from a point where I think that climate change and global warming is the biggest challenge facing our planet this century, I mean that is my starting point. And the government has adopted - and I think all the political parties agree with this - tough targets to tackle global warming and that's got to mean enabling people, encouraging people, to move to more energy efficient vehicles.

MAIR
But can you just explain why a retrospective tax like this helps in that regard - if someone bought their car in 2002 it's not going to help them be green unless they can go back in time?

WICKS
But I think we've got to move urgently on the climate change issue. I understand the point you're making, it's not retrospective in the sense the tax starts a few years ago but I understand what you're saying about vehicles. It's happening at a tough time for our economy but I think we should stick to that, I think we will stick to it because actually if we're serious about climate change and global warming then apart from what government can do and big companies can do all of us as citizens, in terms of the energy efficiency of our housing and our methods of transport, have to play a role. And this might be a pretty tough stick to do it with but I do think it's appropriate and we'll stick to it.

MAIR
Norman Lamb.

LAMB
Well to answer the narrow question first of all. I would put the chances of a U turn very high because this prime minister is developing form on this and we had the election that never was, we've had the whole extraordinary business with the 10p tax rate which has cost the Exchequer £2.7 billion. And the impression we get is that if he's pushed hard enough then he will give. And so I would expect with a lot of pressure from some very nervous Labour backbenchers that there will be some sort of U turn. On the substance of the issue the first important point to make is that I think we all have to accept that we are reaching the end of the era of cheap fuel and that's a pretty alarming prospect and it's an alarming prospect particularly for the poorest communities. Worldwide the effect will be greatest in the developing world. Within our communities it hits people, first of all, in rural areas very hard, it also hits people on low incomes - elderly people and others on - in work but on very low incomes. So as we change - and we all have to adapt our behaviour - but as we change we have to do as much as we can to protect those who are most vulnerable. And my concern about the change in the law on vehicle excise duty, for example, is that it hit low income families very hard and it seems extraordinary to me to impose retrospectively on people who have already made decisions about the vehicles that they purchased without having any idea that this tax was going to be changed, a much heavier duty. And if you're on a low income you don't have the option of buying a new car, you're stuck with the one you've got often and the cost therefore goes up very considerably. And also on the 2p increase in the duty, again it will hit people on low incomes and in rural areas very hard. And my view is we've got to look at things like whether we can charge people, particularly in rural areas, a lower rate of duty, reflecting the fact that on those communities the effect is much tougher.

MAIR
Wouldn't people just drive around for petrol then?

LAMB
Well conceivably but I mean in rural Norfolk I bought diesel yesterday, I've probably made a grave mistake in just buying a diesel car, but I bought diesel at £1.29 a litre and you have the double whammy in rural areas that you have to travel further - in Norfolk you have no option but to use your car but you also are paying higher prices at the petrol station so it's very, very hard for low income families.

MAIR
Nick Herbert.

HERBERT
Well of course there will be a U turn, we've already seen the signs of that with senior ministers suggesting that there would be. I think the government is all over the place on this. But I reject what Malcolm claims that this is all about green taxes, I'm completely at one with him about the need for measures to protect the environment and to meet our climate change targets but don't let's pretend that the vehicle excise duty changes are anything about that at all, they are stealth taxes dressed up as green taxes and actually I think that they give the whole notion of green taxes a very bad name. It's fundamentally dishonest because these taxes will raise billions from many people who simply cannot afford to pay them but they'll only cut carbon dioxide emissions by less than 1%. So the effect on the environment will be very low indeed. And they're not going to change behaviour because people have already bought their car. Eight one per cent of drivers who bought their car in the last seven years are going to pay more - that's twelve and a half million people - and if you've got a Ford Mondeo estate, hardly a Chelsea tractor, you're going to pay 30% more road tax in the next three years. Tony Blair at least courted Mondeo man and Gordon Brown thinks that it's okay to clobber him. And I think that if we are to have green taxes then they must be offset with reductions in taxation in other areas otherwise people simply won't support the concept.

MAIR
Thank you for that. Germaine Greer. [CLAPPING]

GREER
It's curious isn't it, we're being told that this is the only way we can do it. If only the Prime Minister was capable of a proper U turn. What we expect from his is a failure of nerve, not a complete rethinking of our system, which means that our hauliers can't compete with hauliers from the continent. If you really want to make people use their cars less you put the extra charge on petrol and on fuel, I would have thought, so that I, for example, who drive very little and have my car in the garage, if you make me pay so much more for having the car at all then I'll use it more because I've been forced to spend the money. It would be lovely wouldn't it, I've got a bus pass but no bus and I'm sure people in Warwickshire know what that feels like. Don't tell me that the only thing [CLAPPING] just don't tell me that the only thing you can do is make me pay more for petrol, there is something you can do - for God's sake give us some public transport, for God's sake get the freight off the road and on to the rail. [CLAPPING] Spend money on the infrastructure, we've been begging and pleading and imploring you, we pay as much to travel on the train as we do on a plane, there's absolutely no attempt to get us out of our cars. I've just come along the wonderful A14, you all know what a romp that is, and most of the vehicles I saw had one person in them. Yet if I and my old pensioner mates, we're not all working families some of us are pensioners, get together and decide that we'll go shopping together every Wednesday I discover that our insurance does not cover us and we are technically breaking the law. There is so much more thinking there could be. Car share works in other countries, we haven't even tried it here. You want to get people out of their cars you're going to have to think of something a lot cleverer than sucking even more money out of them. It's unimaginative.

MAIR
Malcolm Wicks.

WICKS
[CLAPPING] Can I recognise that in many areas, particularly rural areas, the car is a necessity, that rising prices of diesel, petrol are a real hardship to many, many people - I recognise that. As I say the Chancellor's going to make a judgement about this, it's his judgement not mine, come the autumn and contrary I think to what Nick Herbert was implying I mean it's David Cameron who says, and I quote: "It's not necessarily a judgement you need to make now, you've got to look at what's happening to oil prices and petrol prices nearer the time, that is a judgement that if I was the PM I would be making", so he's not a million miles away from us. And I do think this is difficult and what we must ensure at this time when we make these very difficult judgements that we don't decide as a nation that actually the climate change thing is no longer important, we cannot save the planet on the cheap and there are different ways in which we save the planet from global warming but in terms of our motor vehicles we cannot take that off the agenda.

MAIR
Alright. A reminder of the phone number for Any Answers 0800 - sorry it's 08700 100 444, that's 08700 100 444. Let's have our next question please.

MORTIMER
Jane Mortimer. Does the panel think that long school holidays should end?

MAIR
We had that suggestion this week - should long school holidays end? Nick Herbert.

HERBERT
No I don't think that they should. I think that so many of us are concerned actually about the diminution in family life, it's preoccupying political debate, people are worried about parents who are unable to spend as much time with their children as they want because they are having to work and I think plainly schooling is important, education is important ...

MAIR
But the suggestion - sorry to interrupt you - the suggestion was made because there is some evidence that some children forget what they've learned in the long summer holiday.

HERBERT
I'm sure that I did. But I don't think that that is a reason to shorten the holidays. Certainly schooling, education, should not just finish at the end of a term, parents have a responsibility to participate in that as well. And I think that there are also the teachers to think about and all of the preparation that they have to do, it's an incredibly intensive thing to teach daily and I think that teachers need the time to prepare for lessons and the days ahead. So I don't think that this is a necessary idea, I think that there are far more important things that we need to do in terms of a school's policy, in terms of giving parents more choice, in terms of driving up standards - particularly in our poorest schools - in terms of improving school discipline and shortening holidays is really not one of the things that needs to be a priority at all.

MAIR
Norman Lamb.

LAMB
Yeah I'd agree with that, I think Nick makes a good point about the teachers. I mean it's pretty tough these days teaching in many of our schools, particularly in some of the more disadvantaged communities in our inner cities and I think that it's pretty important for teachers to have a break from that over the summer period. And I also think it's important for family life to have that escape during a summer holiday. And certainly as a member of parliament who has a family I'm away from my family for all the period that parliament is sitting and I very much value the time that I'm around with them over that summer period. I do think that there are greater priorities and when I look at education in our country I see an enormous divide between children in the leafy suburbs who are doing very well in some really good schools but almost an educational apartheid where in some of our inner cities the attainment rate is really dreadful and there are more children leaving school in this country at the age of 16 with no worthwhile qualifications than in virtually any other European country. Now that is a scandal and that's what really should be challenged.

MAIR
Malcolm Wicks, this question of long school holidays, do you have fond memories of long school holidays?

WICKS
Yes I do actually, I mean I do understand the academic argument that the holidays are really rather long and that many children, as it were, forget the habit of learning, they lose knowledge and the teacher kind of has to start again. I can understand the argument. I can also understand the anomaly because presumably the long school holidays, rather like, if I may say so, and I'd better admit this, the long parliamentary recess for MPs is about an agricultural economy when people were required to gather in the crops and pick the fruit and make the hay and so on. And for many parts of Britain, not all, that has long gone. Having said that I rather agree with what someone said that education and growing up is not just about teachers and going to school, I think you can learn a lot on holiday wandering about, the lazy days playing cricket, going to the seaside, whatever you want to do. So I think I would start a preservation society to defend the long summer holiday, I think it's a vital part of childhood and if it ever stops raining in England I hope children enjoy it in the coming months.

MAIR
Germaine Greer.

GREER
I think I'm one of those children who got bored in the summer holidays and I've got the feeling there's quite a lot of them, quite a few of them out there who keep saying what are we going to do today, I can't think of anything to do and I don't know too many parents who have as many - as long holidays as the children do. So it's not sort of all - unless of course they're MPs. [CLAPPING] But if we - I mean in my dreams I think one day we will really understand that education and school are not the same thing and we will begin to understand that our schools are horribly under utilised, I think schools should be open 24/7, I think all different groups of people could come - should have the use of the school and the school's facilities. I think teachers should have more support, I think every child in every school is a special needs child and the skill is to find out what those needs are and deal with them. And if our school was the centre of the community our kids wouldn't be so desperate to get away from it. They have the impression that life is somewhere else - it's in the shopping mall - they play truant, we've still got a big problem with truancy because the kids don't want to be at school. Why don't they want to be at school? We've never got the answer to that. And I think it's something to do with the idea that life is somewhere else and school is a child ghetto, it has the highest walls in the suburb and so on. I think we need to really radically think everything about school. School should be a blast, you should hate to drag yourself away.

MAIR
Thank you for that. Let's have our next question. [CLAPPING]

PECHAL
Kay Pechal. Do panel members agree with the Bishop of Rochester that the marginalisation of Christianity in Britain has created a vacuum which radical Islam is likely to fill?

MAIR
A reminder that we're coming to you from St Andrew's Parish Church in Rugby in Warwickshire. These were comments by the Right Reverend Michael Nasir Ali, who said the social and sexual revolution that began in the 1960s led to a catastrophic decline in the influence of Christianity over society which, he said, church leaders had failed to halt. And he said that radical Islam was moving in to fill the void created by the decline of Christian ethics. Norman Lamb.

LAMB
No I don't really agree with those comments. Christian values are clearly incredibly important in our society but I don't think that the loss of those Christian values creates a void that radical Islam is likely necessarily to fill. I think we have to be acutely aware of extremism within our society. And I think that a lot of what has happened over the last few years has in a sense created a greater gulf between people. I think back to the Iraq War and everything that has followed it and the talk from those such as George Bush of a clash of civilisations I think is very dangerous and it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. So I recognise that in our society here there are very many people who are not Christians and we have to respect other faiths and we have to ensure that we all live peacefully together, recognising the very important Christian values that have been a hallmark of our country's history and taking all that is good from that but recognising also that there are very many other traditions now represented in our country.

MAIR
Germaine Greer, do you agree with the Bishop of Rochester?

GREER
It would be amazing if I agreed with the Bishop of Rochester, I would have had to have a lobotomy to agree with the Bishop of Rochester. It's kind of interesting that the Catholics are no longer the whipping boy, I find that quite interesting. You always forget about us. And of course like most Catholics I don't believe in God, well the Catholics are going to be cross with me for saying that. But like many Catholics I'm a lapsed Catholic because I can't find God - a concept I can get on with. But the idea that the alternative to the Judio Christian tradition is either zero or Islam is nonsensical, it's absurd, it implies that there's no philosophy without Christianity, that there are no moral values without Christianity, that there's no such thing as what we nowadays call, wrongly in my view, humanism. I would have thought that most of our most important social improvements - the improvements in equalitarianism and social justice - have actually been pushed through by people who are secular, not people who did it because it was a Christian value but because it is a value in itself. Things are not good because they please God in my view they are good because they are good, because they result in the greater good for the greater number. This is what has driven most of the reforms in our society and it's still there. It seems to me quite wrong to imply that people who've been disappointed in the decline of Christianity in this country are now turning to Islam, it's not true, they have become rationalists, get over it.

MAIR
Nick Herbert. [CLAPPING]

HERBERT
Well firstly I'm not sure what the Bishop means by the marginalisation of Christianity, I mean in many ways we still have an established church and Christian values permeate our liberal democratic ethos. I worry a bit about the confrontational implication of what the Bishop is saying. I think that there is a different explanation for the growth of radical Islam, I don't think it's filling a void left by Christianity in this country, I think it's a consequence of people feeling completely isolated from our democratic values and their belief - perverted belief - in a sort of corruption of Islam which is encouraged by evil people and I think that that would happen irrespective of the prevalent doctrine - Christian doctrine - in our country. I think there is much to be said about the failure of multi-culturalism, of what the chairman of the commission for racial equality then said was our sleepwalking into separation and the importance of truly integrating communities and the importance of establishing a consensus about our values. The one thing I do agree with the Bishop about is that I think there is a kind of spiritual void in our society and perhaps that has been created by the withdrawal of active participation in Christianity. And we say it, for instance, in the outpouring of grief around the Princess of Wales' death all those years ago where I think people were searching for something and weren't sure what they were searching for and I think it's up to Christian leaders like the Bishop of Rochester to offer us that something.

MAIR
Thank you. Malcolm Wicks.

WICKS
I think religious extremism is always dangerous and it needs tackling, whether that's some of the weird and dangerous cults in the United States which are associated with certain Christian belief but not true Christian beliefs and it's certainly true of Islamic fundamentalism. But I don't really agree with the Bishop I'm afraid, the vast majority of Muslims, all the ones I know in my constituency, are moderate decent hardworking people like the rest of us who share most of the values that those of us in this church hall would share. What I do think however is that what we need to do is emphasise values. Now values can spring from religion but frankly they can also spring from humanitarian values that many of us have.

MAIR
Thank you for that. I'd like to cram in one final question if I may.

PAVIS
Alan Pavis. What would the panel have to say to a cold caller at 6 a.m.?

MAIR
Now Downing Street has denied that Gordon Brown's telephones anyone at that time but we know the story. Malcolm Wicks.

WICKS
Oh dear. This could be a career defining moment. I suppose I could say yes I'm happy to take that promotion but I'd better not say that on air. He doesn't call people at 6 o'clock in the morning...

MAIR
Five o'clock?

WICKS
But I think proper politicians - many of us on this panel - we certainly knock on doors, as I'm doing tomorrow in Croydon, we ring people up when they write to us to get into a dialogue and if the Prime Minister's doing that, as he is, I think that's not a bad thing.

MAIR
Germaine Greer, what would you say to a cold caller at 6 a.m? Remember we're live on Radio 4.

GREER
I'd say what I say to all the other cold callers absolutely nothing. Just before I left home today I was told that I'd won a holiday in the Bahamas.

MAIR
Congratulations.

GREER
Is that what Mr Brown is going to ring up and tell me? I don't think so. And is it going to be Mr Brown or a robot? I mean, no, nothing, say nothing. Hang up. Don't even breath.

MAIR
Nick Herbert.

HERBERT
Well I would tell almost anybody who called me at 6 a.m. to sod off and I would certainly say that to Gordon Brown. I would of course make exceptions if David Cameron were to ring me at 6 a.m. I would be politeness personified. I used to be rung very early in the morning when I was working for a group of very senior industrialists who thought that it would be good to keep me on my toes and ring me extremely early to see whether I was getting on with the job and I found the way to deal with it was to ring them an hour earlier than that and that soon did the trick.

MAIR
Norman Lamb.

LAMB
I think I'd tell him to get a life. And with my reputation for pursuing freedom of information requests I'm very tempted to ask him to list all of the e-mails he sends between midnight and 6 a.m. because I think it would an extremely interesting list, we'll see whether Malcolm is on it.

MAIR
Alright, well thank you very much for all of the answers we've had here today. And thank you of course to the St Andrew's Parish Church here in Rugby in Warwickshire for being such gracious hosts and it's a beautiful, beautiful setting. I'm afraid there's a member of the audience who wants to take part, we've got 30 seconds left and this is just the wrong moment. I'll tell you what you should do - could you phone Any Answers, the number to call is 08700 100 444 [AUDIENCE NOISE], these are good points to make and if only they could have made at any point in the last 15 minutes we could have addressed it but the number is 08700 100 444 or you can e-mail Any Answers at any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Thanks for joining us, we're in Portsmouth next week. [CLAPPING]
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