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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions?  27 June 2008


PRESENTER: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY

PANELLISTS:

Lord (PETER) GOLDSMITH: former Attorney General

Lord (CHRIS) PATTEN: Conservative Peer

SIMON HUGHES MP: Liberal Democrat President

McELVOY: Executive Editor of the Evening Standard


From The Coopers’ Company and Coborn School,
St Mary’s Lane, Upminster, Essex RM14 3HS



DIMBLEBY
Welcome to Upminster in Essex which is a suburb to the East of London at the end of the District Line. We are at Coopers’ Coborn School which has its origins in the early 16th Century but is now a co educational comprehensive with some 1300 pupils and it is proud of its academic reputation and of the fact that it has been awarded high performing status as a specialist sports college. On our panel Lord Goldsmith played a prominent and often controversial role as Attorney General for the last six years of Tony Blair’s administration. He remains prominent in the political debate, most notably as a fierce critic of Gordon Brown’s 42 Day detention without charge proposals. Simon Hughes has stood for the leadership of his Party on more than one occasion. He has held all mr of portfolios, notably Home Affairs but at the moment he keeps peace in the dovecote or stops the rats fighting in the sack whichever it may be as President of the Liberal Democrats. Lord Patten, Chris Patten was the Secretary of State but one of the so called Wets in the Thatcher government. He went on to become Chairman of the Conservative Party in which role he oversaw John Major’s victory in the ’92 election, losing his own seat in the process. He went on onwards and upwards to become the last Governor of Hong Kong, Commissioner for Foreign Affairs in the European Union and already Chancellor of Newcastle University latterly Chancellor of Oxford University as well. Anne McElvoy has been a reporter and columnist for a variety of newspapers but she presently rules the political roost at the Evening Standard as columnist and Executive Editor. She is the fourth member of our panel. (APPLAUSE)

Could we please have our first question?

GARETH THOMPSON
Can only God remove Robert Mugabe from power?

DIMBLEBY
Christ Patten

CHRIS PATTEN
Well I think we all have good reason to pray that God will do his duty. Before we all ring our hands there is one thing that everybody who is concerned about this can do which is very practical. You log on to the website www. avaaaz.org/en/ and you join a petition to Mr Mbeki and other Southern African leaders which urges them to take a tough line with Mr Mugabe and to play an African role in getting rid of him. I think unless the African states do that it is unlikely to happen in the near future. Zimbabwe is like other states; Burma, Somalia, Sudan where Darfur has been such a running sore, where terrible Governments do appalling damage to their own citizens claiming that they have the sovereign right to do that. The international community has to find ways in which we can intervene to prevent that happening in a way which is endorsed as widely as possible by the United Nations. I hope in the case of Zimbabwe that the UN Security Council will take a tough line politically, that nobody will recognize Mugabe and his Government, that we will take a tougher line on sanctions against members of the regime and that we will establish through the Security Council a UN Human Rights Commission to look at Human Rights abuses that have taken place in Zimbabwe with a mind to prosecuting those who have been guilty in the international criminal tribunal in the Hague.

DIMBLEBY
Two brief questions if I could. You said the Africans which have a lead role in this and Mbeki, South Africa in particular. Two things do you think that they will do? Is their evidence that South Africa will, the Government will and what can they do which will actually bring about his downfall.

CHRIS PATTEN
Well interestingly the South African trade’s union movements have already done more than almost anybody else in for example preventing the shipment of arms from China to Zimbabwe. A lot of African countries have been very nervous about taking on Mugabe politically because he was a hero of the struggle against the white colonialism in Rhodesia and against colonia powers like then the United Kingdom so he has a certain folk status in South Africa but I think he has run through that as he has murdered and pillaged Zimbabwe, its economy and its people. He is a very very bad man and the sooner he is got rid of by God or whoever the better. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Lord Goldsmith


LORD GOLDSMITH
I met him in 2001 just before I entered Government. I led a group of very senior judges and lawyers from the common law world of the Commonwealth to see him because he was attacking his own judges at that stage and people told me before I saw him you will find a man who is on his last legs, he is old he is not well. We found a man who harangued us for 3 hours, that was the length of the meeting that we had, he was determined, he was articulate and very very bad and evil and I am surprised he has lasted this long but we hoped at that stage that South Africa then would take the lead in condemning him and they didn’t. And I am sure that Chris Patten is right that what has to happen is condemnation which starts in his own part of the world for the reasons he has given. What needs to happen after this travesty of an election today, the very first thing is universal condemnation and universal non recognition of him as President of Zimbabwe and if that happens and if the people can be for this time resolute in relation to it, resolute in not recognizing him then perhaps we will see what certainly ought to be the case, him out and out now.

DIMBLEBY
Why can’t he just hunker down in his bunker, rely on money that comes in from outside and stay put.

LORD GOLDSMITH
He is leading that country into ruin. It is a good country with good people but it is in such a terrible state and he has been relying on this credit that he had as a freedom fighter, a man who was once the hope for Africa but he has run out of that credit a long long time ago and that is what the world ought to recognize.

DIMBLEBY
Anne McElvoy

(APPLAUSE)

ANNE McELVOY
I think the absolute bankruptcy in every sense of Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe’s role in it brings up that question that Peter Goldsmith was just beginning to address at the end in the sense of so called legitimacy of people who have been big figures in the liberation struggle and in a sense have been treated rather hesitantly perhaps because of that and that is why many African leaders have held back. But I think we are way past the point where we should condone that and one of the things that I noticed about Nelson Mandela being in town this week is that he went further than he has ever gone in condemning Mugabe but in my book not far enough because it isn’t enough to say that it is a failure of leadership. It is far worse than a failure of leadership, it is mass murder, it is random, it is an absolute travesty of anything that you can call an election so I think one of the things I would like our own Government to do if we can come down to brass tacks here apart from saying what we would like the Africans to do is I really would like them to speak very forcibly now. I think we have been through the period where everybody hoped that behind the scenes diplomacy and leaning on Thabo Mbeki in South Africa would lead to greater pressure on Zimbabwe. I think we really have to say now that the whole credibility of South Africa is also at stake and ultimately although it is a very fractious point not least in Britain after the Iraq war we have to ask ourselves are we prepared to intervene, are we prepared to try and push the commonwealth, a word we haven’t heard in this debate so far tonight to intervene because if it doesn’t then I think we make a mockery of everything that the commonwealth and the international community stands for. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
A question to put to Chris Patten. If pressure is put on South Africa, if, even if Mbeki says we deplore what is happening there how does, what is the power, the leverage that ensures the downfall of Mugabe rather than Mugabe just saying well there is a traitor.

ANNE McELVOY
I think the obvious quick one is what happened to Ian Smith if vital supplies are cut off and in that sense the regime is genuinely isolated which I accept there is obviously a greater short term an immediate suffering caused to everyone and not just to the dreadful Robert Mugabe but I think one has to be absolutely clear in saying that it can not go on and I think at the moment there is a sort of well it can go on for a little while longer and then we will see and ultimately an intervention force as I just said.

DIMBLEBY
A commonwealth intervention force

ANNE McELVOY
Yes an African Union, Commonwealth and the UN because that is what the international institutions have to be there to do otherwise they are not worth the paper they are written on

DIMBELBY
Just to pick up on that last point Simon Hughes what is your view on an intervention force?

SIMON HUGHES
Well the Commonwealth is the right place to start. I absolutely agree with Anne I saw the UN Secretary General the other day, I have argued in the Commons recently that the Commonwealth has to be much more pro active. I think it has been a real failure of the Commonwealth in recent years. It brings together many African nations and many others and it has that credibility which is cross continental which often the European voice won’t have and in Zimbabwe with Mugabe clearly the British voice has no authority because he just rejects us as being the old colonialist. That can’t apply so I support the idea that the Commonwealth should be pro active, the Security Council at last this week came to a common view, including South Africa for the first time, that was progress. The EU clearly has a common view, the African nations are beginning to speak out one after the other, the commonwealth could add effectively to that but then we have to do the practical things. There is the question specific that Gareth asked I mean bluntly those of us who have Christian beliefs ought to pray that God does intervene in one way or another. It may be by dealing with him ending his life, he looks pretty robust to me sadly, or by bringing about some political change but also there are practical things, economic sanctions, freezing the bank accounts. I support unusually and it is against all my instincts the banning of the cricket tour. We have to put all the pressures on so that everybody, the big companies, Anglo Americans start saying this is indefensible as politics and after today now that the polls have closed there is no excuse for holding back and I hope we do so strongly and robustly in that fantastic country where I have been and seen what potential it has.

DIMBLEBY
Given the history of intervention is intervention last resort but urgent possibility Chris Patten?

CHRIS PATTEN
Well there is actually an internationally agreed way of dealing with this problem but then it was the right thing to do in Burma as well. It is the principle of responsibility to protect which was agreed at the UN a couple of years back. Agreed by China, Russia all the Africans everybody else, since then they have got a severe case of buyer’s remorse and every time that we have tried to assert this principle people have backed off. You do need to legitimize intervention; military intervention would be the very last thing that you could justify. If there has to be military intervention it should be by the African union and by African countries but you would only want to do that I think if there was a genuine threat of a genocide. Something else I think practical we could do is set out very clearly how the rest of the world would help to rebuild Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean economy where at the moment 25 billion Zimbabwean dollars are worth 38p.

DIMBLEBY
We will leave that there with an invitation to come into Any Answers after the Saturday broadcast of this programme. The number is 08700 100 444 the email address any.answers @ bbc.co.uk on this or any of the other issues we are now going to discuss. Our next question please.


CAROL THOMPSON
In spite of having made difficult decisions in the past Nelson Mandela inspires virtually universal respect and admiration. Why are so few politicians and world leaders of this calibre?

DIMBELBY
Anne McElvoy?

ANNE McELVOY
A very interesting question. Nelson Mandela is one of those names I grew up with, Nelson Mandela everything about his struggle and everything that flowed from it in terms of values and what you believed in and what you questioned etc in the forefront of our minds and here we still are talking about him on his 90th birthday. For a start, he is a quite extraordinary man who has lived an extraordinary life at the extremes of politics and discrimination. I think here is perhaps an answer that you rarely hear when talking about politicians. I think it is actually very hard for democratic politicians in reasonably secure and stable democracies to emerge as Titans. One of the things that you notice over years and years of watching politicians is how whatever they originally stood for whether it is the strength of Thatcher or the appeal of Blair in our own country eventually it is chipped and chipped away at. It is actually quite hard to be a democratic politician and you know it is such an immense blessing to have stable countries where people aren’t called on to be heroes and I think of the great line in the Berthold Brecht play about Galileo “pity the land that needs heroes” and of course we are very pleased that some of those people who have had very straitened circumstances, South Africa, the former Soviet Union other dictatorships are there but in a way their challenges are very different from the long and boring plains of running democracies so I am just going to put in a word for not the bog standard democratic politicians but the politics and the democracies that we are lucky enough to live in.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Simon Hughes

SIMON HUGHES
Anne is right to praise the democratic system but and it was a very good question if I may so but I have just reflecting where there are others and there are some others around who may not be in quite the same league for a very obvious reason. Vaclav Havel one of the people who took the Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia now and became its President as a fighter for the freedom against the Soviet Union, President Yushchenko of Ukraine with the Orange Revolution not many years ago who nearly died by poison because his opponents from the pro-Russian camp tried to get rid of him and he is still there.. More controversially, sadly now longer with us but Benazir Bhutto who was willing to go back and risk her life to take on a military president in Pakistan and the opposition leader in Burma who is still under house arrest but not giving up the struggle as she continues to try and have a democratic…… so there are other people and I think we need, I used to be a member of amnesty international, I have been for most of my life on and off from when I was a student and one of the things that I felt that at least I could try to do was support the political prisoners who were fighting for democracy in countries round the world just by encouragement and so there are people like that. The reason I guess Nelson Mandela is so significant is because he was imprisoned for so long in such dire circumstances and his struggle was such an obvious need to overwhelm injustice when the minority had no democracy and he achieved it for the majority and he is now an elder statesman but there are others. We should salute them and encourage them and there are many organizations which Chris and the former Attorney General and I and others are involved in, Westminster Foundation and others which seek to build up democracy in places which haven’t got it. Democracy may be in trouble sometimes but at the end of the day it is far far better and we must encourage all those to seek to achieve it in their countries.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Lord Goldsmith

LORD GOLDSMITH
I agree with both Anne and Simon. Anne in her analysis and I agree it is a very good question. I think the thing that is extraordinary about Nelson Mandela was not just the nature of the struggle that he went through and the hardship that he experienced but his reaction after things had changed. He had every reason to be the most bitter man to look for recrimination, to look to punish those and goodness me a lot of them deserved a great deal of punishment instead of which he had this huge generosity of spirit and magnanimity actually to look for reconciliation which meant that South Africa was able to move forward without a blood bath and that I think is his absolute greatness and I find it very hard to think of anyone who has been quite as great as that. But Anne I think is right and so is Simon but what that may demonstrate is that extraordinary circumstances produce extraordinary people but it doesn’t mean that all extraordinary circumstances always produce the right person so we must praise and identify those people when we see them but also there will be smaller sets of circumstances which are still important where people will show as democratic politicians the courage and the fortitude actually to fight through them and get to the right result for their people those also ought to be recognized.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Does it also, does it follow from what you were saying that ordinary circumstances actually can make it quite undesirable to have extraordinary people.

LORD GOLDSMITH
What an interesting idea I am not sure what you have to do when you are extraordinary in ordinary circumstances. I mean at the end of the day, you know you want a government which actually deals competently with your public services, with your economy all of those things

ANNE McELVOY
Are we going to get one?

(laugh)

DIMBLEBY
We will move on now I am sure that is another question. Could well be.

Lord Patten?

CHRIS PATTEN
Charisma is an overworked word. It really means a combination of grace and authority. I think the most charismatic people I have met in politics have both been black politicians. Black public servants. Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela. Peter said very well that Nelson Mandela was, achieved heroic status because of his magnanimity because of the way that he reacted to events. Anne said quite properly that fortunately we live in societies where our politicians aren’t obliged to show that degree of heroism but I just want to suggest somebody who I think may be capable of the same sort of charisma as Nelson Mandela and I hope that the next few months don’t prove me wrong and that is Senator Obama . I think it is extremely (APPLAUSE) I think it is extremely important in politics to have a narrative which connects with reality and a narrative which connects with principle. Something I thought was remarkable was after Senator Obama was under such pressure because of his pastor, Pastor Wright and some of Pastor Wright’s sermons. He didn’t go into a huddle with focus groups, he didn’t consult opinion polls, he sat down and himself wrote a beautiful elegant speech defending his position and trying to understand why Pastor Wright had made some of the inflammatory remarks he made now it is a very long time since I remember a politician reacting to adversity with quite that amount of grace and intelligence and I just hope that that is the sort of president the United States elects.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
To our next please


BILLY BRADLEY
Do you think Gordon Brown will stand a chance in a General Election when Labour can not beat the BNP or the Green Party in a by-election?

DIMBLEBY
Down to earth Simon Hughes

SIMON HUGHES
Well he will stand a chance. If you are in the race you all stand a chance and the race of politics as all of us on this panel know is in 5 year busts and you never quite know what is going to happen around the next bend.

DIMBLEBY
But you can be confident that the Liberal Democrats will be challenged to get an overall majority at the next election.

SIMON HUGHES
No no I am sure it is not underlying the question at all.

DIMBLEBY
The thought that there are some with big chances and some with very little chances

SIMON HUGHES
No, no, no you know I will never accept that Jonathan on the basis that you have lived through the fact that we were 50% in the opinion polls in the 80’s as well. The answer is that they are in very dire straits, they have never had such low ratings in the opinion polls, no government has ever had such low ratings in the opinion polls and recovered. I think the chance of the Labour Party forming a majority at the next General election are as near to zero as you can ever predict. that doesn’t mean that the Tories will get a majority not least with the electoral system actually makes it more difficult even if the shares of the vote were the same. Of course I hope we will be in the majority if that doesn’t happen I hope we are holding the balance of power and if that doesn’t happen we will all have to hope for the best with other circumstances but no Labour in terrible, and I am sorry for Gordon Brown he started with such hopes, he had been waiting for so long, it is a personal tragedy but I just don’t see recovery for Labour. In this part of the world that might not be the least popular thing that can happen because it isn’t a traditional Labour voting area this part of the world and therefore I think you might be rather relieved when Labour end their term of office in 2 years time. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
In 1992 against what appeared to many people to be the odds you were part of the strategy which led the strategy which got the Prime Minister back into office, John Major, do you think it is possible given the polls, given the result of this by-election?


CHRIS PATTEN
Most things are possible. I used to have the job in 1992 of going on the Today programme and explaining away by-election results which weren’t quite as bad as this but almost as bad well this one was a bit discouraging but of course wait for the real poll that is the only one that matters, my God those were the days. Look (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
Lord Goldsmith at this point is getting the giggles he is going to have to say something like that.

CHRIS PATTEN
No I think that to be fair I haven’t liked alot of the very personal criticism of Gordon Brown. He is an intelligent man, he’s a very hard worker, he has got a very great sense of public service and we have talked about charisma just now he is not obviously charismatic you wouldn’t confuse him for a sunbeam (LAUGH) but that doesn’t (APPLAUSE) I have to say that doesn’t make me nostalgic for the sanctimonious charm of his predecessor. I think that being Prime Minister is a very difficult job at the best of times and it is an even more difficult job when times are difficult. One of my grouses about Mr. Brown is that when the world economy was going fantastically well and partly as a consequence things were going well he took all the credit, now things are going slightly worse it is all because of the rest of the world it is nothing to do with anything that is being done domestically and I think that makes a lot of what he says incredible. Secondly, having wanted the wretched job so badly, so bitterly for so long it comes as a great surprise to a lot of us when he gets to do it that he hasn’t got the faintest idea what he wants to do and thirdly, it is not people like me who are most critical of Gordon Brown the most bitter criticism comes from his most senior colleagues. Every time they talk to a journalist they are leaking oozing poison about him now if you lose the benefit of the doubt with your colleagues it is very difficult to get the benefit of the doubt back with the electorate as a whole so if the Labour Party wants to have a chance of winning the next election then the first thing that senior members of the the Labour Party should do is to stop grousing about Mr. Brown.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Peter Goldsmith?

PETER GOLDSMITH
Let’s deal with Henley first of all. Terrible result. Newspapers this morning use the word humiliating and plainly it is. It is not the first time that Labour have come behind the BNP and it won’t be the first time there has been a result in a by-election as bad as that and indeed Labour won a General Election after a by-election result as poor as that but it is not the only thing that is happening and it is impossible to deny that. It has been very difficult and the question asked what the possibility is for the future. Now it still remains a long way off so I have no doubt that there is not just a possibility but I very much hope a probability that Labour will bounce back very strongly but what needs to be done and I think for me and I am not a member of the inner circle. I think there are two things that need to be done. People are more and more saying we need to know what Labour stands for. That vision really isn’t clearly enough explained and enunciated and I think people rightly say the electorate, the public you say we want to know what you actually stand for. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Hasn’t Gordon Brown now in office for a year had ample opportunity to say what he and Labour stands for and you think he has failed to achieve.

PETER GOLDSMITH
I think people now will be looking to what is said during the party conference season. That is the time finally to see, let’s see that vision. I think there is one other thing as well and I understand what Chris Patten is saying it is an obvious point to make but the fact is that after the local election results Gordon Brown rightly said and he is a decent man, he is a hardworking man, he is a man of principle and conviction, he is not a sunbeam you are quite right but that is not what anyone thought he was there for. What he said after the local authority elections was that he felt the pain that people were suffering and people are feeling the pain of the credit squeeze of higher food prices, of higher energy prices. I think what needs to be done now is that flesh needs to be put on that statement and people out in the country need to see in the country not in Downing Street, not just in Westminster actually how that pain is felt explaining what is happening, explaining what is being down and explaining what is going to be done and if decisive action can be taken in those two areas then I think we may see a very very different situation in the future.

(applause)

DIMBLEBY
Peter does the fact that he seems so indecisive surprise you?

GOLDSMITH
I think that he was doing a different job when he was Chancellor which didn’t face him with the many decisions which a Prime Minister has to take every day. He likes to get things right and that is a very good quality, wanting to get things right and not to make mistakes but I think that there are areas where he has made some very good decisions, decisions of principle and conviction but he has plainly got to give people the clear idea as I say of what the vision is that he stands for and what the Labour Party stands for and what it is against.

DIMBLEBY
And do you think that as many commentators and some of his colleagues have said that he gets too bogged down in the detail in the endless number of issues that come before him rather than saying I am going to concentrate on this one, two or three.


GOLDSMITH
No I think it is what Chris is saying. I don’t work closely with Gordon Brown now I have not been a member of his Government since he was Prime Minister so I can’t really speak from first hand about how he takes decisions I am saying he is a man who cares to get the right, the right result, that is important, takes care to do that, wants to study the situation and I can understand how that sometimes results in decisions coming out more slowly than they did under his predecessor.

DIMBLEBY
One more brief thing your fellow peer Lord Levy has said today, made it very clear that it would be better if Gordon Brown went, if the Chris Pattens and men in grey suits walked in and said time is up do you hope he will lead the party into the next election or do you think it is open season on finding anyone who can do better.

GOLDSMITH
I don’t think it is that at all and I don’t think it is a call to Gordon Brown to step down or anything of that sort. I think what I am saying is actually a call to the senior Leaders of the Labour Party, make sure that we have this very clear vision of what the party stands for and make sure that the people in the country understand, go out and explain to them what it is that the Labour Party is going to do to ease the pain that they are suffering.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you do you think Anne McElvoy that Gordon Brown will stand a chance in the general election given the situation?

ANNE McELVOY
I think by-elections are funny things but I think that Henley in the sense that they are not replicated in the General Election and actually results can come out in a different way but it is part of the trend and that is what has been worrying for the Labour Party it isn’t just Henley where I think the Labour Party has lost its deposit something like 7 times and you wonder why they keep standing but you do think when you have got Crewe and Nantwich with an absolute turn against Labour in the North West you then start to think how on earth could they possibly recover in the Southern key marginals which are essential if Labour are to form a majority at the next election. As much as I agree with Peter that I think the problem that Gordon has had is that he has no distinct clear vision of his own that people can say ah that is what Brown is in power. They might go on about how Blair was smarmy but I think most people had a very clear idea about what Tony Blair stood for. I don’t think they know that about Gordon Brown but I have to say and I am sorry if this is harsh but I have to say I think that might not do it. I think we are way past the point actually with Gordon Brown where I think the public will warm to him sufficiently to win the next elections and a lot of the people in the Labour Party are thinking this., It’s a bit like opposite of the murder on the Orient Express they are all hoping someone else is going to do it but their appetite for a new leader I think is getting stronger and Lord Goldsmith happened to mention the Party Conferences I would say that it is implicit that if things are not picking up by then you can not run 20% behind in the opinion polls and be the next leader who can take you into the next election . I think something will start to give and it could just be as someone said to me very senior in the Labour Party you know it is like having a girlfriend you want to dump her or she wants to dump you try everything you say I have changed I have smiled a bit more, I am changing the way I talk to you and in the end they say you know what I am just not that into you any more. I think that is where Gordon is now.

(applause)

DIMBLEBY
A word Simon Hughes

SIMON HUGHES
Just one thing that would answer Peter’s question which I think I agree we all have what does Labour stand for and in Essex the same as everywhere else the same issue I think people feel that the one big failure has been the gap between the really well off and the ordinary person has got wider and wider and wider and that wasn’t what people elected Labour governments to do (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
A reminder of the Any Answers number it is 08700 100 444. The email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk on to our next please


GORDON REID
A lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client should the government receives legal advice from a member of the cabinet?

DIMBLEBY
There are proposals being put before the Commons in the form of a Bill to change the relationship of the Attorney General, the role that obviously Lord Goldsmith had which would diminish, allegedly would diminish, the ability of the politician to influence the legal advice, the Justice Committee of the Commons says it actually wants to propose to give the Attorney General more power with less transparency. Chris Patten the problematic issue of the Attorney General.

CHRIS PATTEN
To be honest I don’t feel very strongly about changing the present system providing the Attorney General acts in a way which is plainly based on legal integrity. I saw in Cabinet Nick Lyell for example operating as Attorney General and nobody would have every said that Nick tried to bend the law in order to suit political convenience. I think that there have been one or two cases which Peter’s views would be interesting on where people have worried about whether that was happening. There was the whole question of whether the invasion of Iraq was actually legal and justifiable and not least in relation to the resignation of one of the senior legal officers in the Foreign Office. There was the question about the frauds office enquiry into the arms for Saudi Arabia being stood down so there have been legal issues which have raised the question but I am not absolutely convinced that one should make institutional changes always because of bad decisions that might have been made.

DIMBLEBY
Anne McElvoy?

ANNE McELVOY
I think there is an inbuilt contradiction in the role of Attorney General and I think it goes back before the Labour Government and Lord Goldsmith’s role and I think one of the things that happened is that it came into the public domain very clearly because it was such an important and contentious topic, the legal advice over Iraq. I think that they are in the horns of a dilemma really because Cabinet responsibility means taking your part of a political decision which in this case divided the government, the country and everyone who was involved in it. At the same time he has to give so called independent legal advice. Now I am not one of those people who say the war in Iraq was illegal I find it an almost meaningless statement about a conflict because the law can be what you make it. Was Sadam out of compliance with many UN resolutions? Yes. Was there a case for intervention? Yes there was. Was it legal? Well it depends who you ask and which international lawyer you ask. So I am not against the role because I think Lord Goldsmith did anything particularly wrong but I think he was obviously in a position where pressure was going to be put upon him knowingly or otherwise to come to a certain view and to validate the government's actions and I don’t think that whoever it was that is not a reasonable position to put someone in and I would rather that the roles were separated.

DIMBLEBY
Simon Hughes?

SIMON HUGHES
It’s good that we’re having the debate, it’s been needed for a long time and Peter’s term in office precipitated it in many ways, not least because of the decisions, a.) about Iraq, and later about the Saudi Arabia arms contract. My view is very simple I think the Attorney at the law offices should be outside the cabinet but they should be able to attend upon the cabinet when the cabinet wants them and they should be there to give advice to the cabinet, they are outside but they are advisors. If their advice is prayed in aid by the government as Tony Blair prayed in aid his advice from his law offices then it should be made public to Parliament so that we know what it says. If they don’t pray it in aid then like any client they can take it or reject it, and lastly they should in my view, though it’s not the view of all my colleagues have overall responsibility for prosecutions brought in the name of the crown, except for those of Ministers, Members of Parliament and civil servants, where clearly there could be a conflict of interest, and that should be delegated to a senior civil servant. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Is this proposed reform criticized for not being enough by the justice committee needed, Lord Goldsmith?

PETER GOLDSMITH
Well, I think there’s been, there’s an issue of perception, but let me just approach it this way if I may. I mean the question started, and it is an important question to discuss; by saying is it right for the government to receive its legal advice from a member of the Cabinet? Now the Attorney General isn’t a member of the Cabinet and I wasn’t a member of the Cabinet, and that’s actually an important distinction and that’s why what says about collective responsibility is also wrong. It’s very, very clear that the role of the Attorney General is to give advice in cabinet, to cabinet, you have the same rank as another Cabinet Minister but you’re not a member and the difference between the Attorney General and the other Ministers sitting round the Cabinet table is that if other ministers don’t like what is being proposed, they can argue against it but at the end of the day they have to go along with it if there is a majority for that view. If the Attorney General’s view is that something is legally wrong then he has to stand to that view and can’t just say well the majority think otherwise. Now, you know, I’m well aware of the controversy obviously surrounding both of the decisions that have been raised, the fact of the matter is I’ve been a professional lawyer all of my working life before I went into government, my approach to the legal problems before was, you examine the law, you examine the evidence, you reach a view objectively that which in your own judgment is the right answer and I brought exactly the same approach to decisions which I had to make in government. They were difficult decisions some of them but they were decided in the same way, objectively on the evidence and on the law. The programme doesn’t permit the time to go through that

DIMBLEBY
Well let me just ask you then a simple question against that background, are you saying that any reform that is being proposed, albeit criticized, the reform, is only needed for presentational reasons if you are an honourable individual serving in that role you don’t need any change.

PETER GOLDSMITH
No I, what I think I’m saying is I recognise the way that the perception has come about, and it was interesting, there was an evidence session before a select committee the other day and the directors of the prosecuting authorities went out of their way to say that in all of the time that they had been there they’d never once been subjected to political pressure from the Attorney General to reach a decision and I think its important people understand that. I think it’s also right. I disagree with Simon’s conclusion but I agree with the point about transparency of decisions which is why I proposed at one stage there should be a select committee and if necessary a select committee that actually could hear things privately which weren’t going to be disseminated more widely because there’s security issues or something of that sort so the Attorney General could actually go and explain what the reasons were. I did that once with the prosecution of a former, a former member of the security services when I thought, there’s going to be controversy about this, I went and explained why there wasn’t a prosecution and the cross party select committee were perfectly happy with the decision, now maybe more of that would actually help people realize that we are making the decisions,

DIMBLEBY
One, one, complicated territory just one more brief question on this, the MP’s and Justice Committee have said, correctly, have said that the provision, a provision bill would allow the Attorney to stop the serious fraud office from investigating for instance BA on grounds of national security, does it worry you that the Attorney General, or do you think that it is right that the Attorney General, as you had that ability, to stop investigations by the serious fraud office?

PETER GOLDSMITH
I think, I don’t actually think this is the change that the justice committee think that it is or maybe putting it more clearly in statutory, in statutory language, what has happened is that there have been, always been, discussions between the Attorney General and the directors of these important prosecuting authorities and consideration of the evidence and consideration of the legal principles that are applied and if it’s wrong because the evidence doesn’t support it or it’s wrong because there is a serious risk to national security which outweighs the value of the case then our law permits that case to be stopped, and if it’s still at the investigation stage exceptionally it may be appropriate to do that, normally if it’s at the investigation stage you’d want to say let’s investigate it further, but that isn’t always the case.

DIMBLEBY
Quick word, Anne McElvoy

ANNE McELVOY
Formally, I think what Lord Goldsmith says may be right but had he broken ranks with the Cabinet as we know it on either decision it would have been a major political crisis and it could actually have changed the course of events. To that extent I think you know the existing Attorney General structure doesn’t work because its simply to closely knitted into the politics of the day and however elegantly and formally you argue it, you can’t get away from that.

PETER GOLDSMITH
That is the strength of the present position, for a civil servant to say something is one thing, for a fellow Minister to say this government is doing something unlawful is absolute dynamite, and that’s why it doesn’t happen. If the Attorney General said no, the government accepts that.

DIMBLEBY
We will leave that there. And go swiftly please to our next.


BARBARA FROST
Which allowance do the panel feel would be of most use to a serving MP? A.) the expenses of the nanny so that they are able to concentrate wholly, exclusively, and necessarily on constituency matters, or B.) the latest model of kitchen with matching integrated appliances in a house which is empty half of the time? (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
If we leave aside the particular case of Caroline Spellman which has obviously raised your thought, it’s a big sensible issue isn’t it? What’s the most useful way of being able to spend public money to deliver the job? Umm, let me start with you again Lord Goldsmith. The expenses of a nanny allow a politician to get on with their job properly, more is implied in the question than having integrated appliances in the kitchen when you’re not there very much.

PETER GOLDSMITH
Well I obviously don’t want to say anything which suggests that I either know anything about the position of Mrs Spellman or am commenting upon it, I mean, I’m not sure we have historically actually been that helpful to our working mothers because we haven’t on the whole taken into account that in order that they can do their job they actually need to be able to have someone who can look after the children when they’re not there and we’ve not been at all good at that in many, many ways, so I’ve got some sympathy with that concern. I’ve also got sympathy with MPs who are expected to live away from home often a long way away for days at a time and obviously need reasonable accommodation to live in but I think what’s been happened in relation to all of this is that there is an absence of public trust because of an absence of transparency an absence of understanding what the rules are and how the rules are policed and I think it’s not in the interest of the public because it’s tax payer’s money which is being spent and I don’t think its in the interests of MPs because they are doing on the whole an extremely good job and they’re being criticized for wasting or abusing tax payers money, and that’s not right for them either. So, more transparency, clearer rules in the future, is what is needed and the rules might, I don’t know, say which comes higher up the pecking order, a nanny or a fitted kitchen.

DIMBLEBY
Simon Hughes?

SIMON HUGHES
I understand Barbara’s question, I have, bluntly, a very puritanical attitude about this. I think we should be paid a salary for the job that’s the going rate and I think we should be given for those people who can’t and don’t live in London where Parliament is there should be a straightforward allowance that allows you to acquire property or stay on the same rate as anybody else who is staying away from home and doing business, only enough for that, you should not be able to make a profit out of it, you should not be able to furnish it in with all sorts of new gadgets and if you decide to have one , child, or seventeen children, then you have to take that into account and the state has to think how you look after people and their children, its not a job for you to pay so that that comes out of nanny allowance for the MP. We have been really clear and I hope on Thursday we will be really clear and I’ve asked the Chairman of the Commission on Standards in Public Life to say what he thinks of the report that’s come from the Speaker and our colleagues, so it’s not just MP’s suggesting a proposal to MPs but its somebody outside who says this is good and that won’t do.

DIMBLEBY
Not as long as you deserve on this, Anne McElvoy.

ANNE McELVOY
The nanny who is good in the fitted kitchen is what all working mothers want, the question is at Westminster simply are the rules clear, are they universally applied, so that you don’t end up in these ridiculous things where someone can claim that someone was, nanny was in their constituency when they clearly weren’t and vice versa you know that they can’t profit from second homes in a way that most of us can not make a profit out of anything that just happens to be our equity. As long, frankly I think MPs need a reasonable standard of living I think you know we should have a good and functioning democracy, I don’t want to have a sort of real retainiam system where they’re underpaid or undervalued but it has to be absolutely clear what the rules are, and if what’s happening at the moment contributes to that we will have at least cleaned up something of this ramshackle mess.

DIMBLEBY
Happily, or unhappily less than thirty seconds I’m afraid, Chris Patten,

CHRIS PATTEN
A few MP’s, the usual suspects, bring the whole thing into discredit and disrepute, I think at the beginning of a Parliament it should be clear what the remuneration of MP’s is going to be for that Parliament and the allowances, there should be complete openness about how those allowances are collected so maybe what we should give, is provide every MP with a subscription for transparency international and that would, that would I’m sure clean things up pretty quickly.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you very much. Next week, Ben Bradshaw, David Davis, Nigel Farage, and Susan Kramer. For now, I’m afraid, goodbye.
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