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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions?  18 July 2008
ANDY BURNHAM: Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

BARONESS (Pauline) NEVILLE-JONES: Shadow Security Minister

JENNY WILLOTT: Liberal Democrats' Work and Pensions spokesperson

MATTHEW PARRIS: Columnist on The Times and broadcaster

From Salford City Academy, Eccles, Greater Manchester

DIMBLEBY
Welcome to Eccles which is on the outskirts of Manchester. And to the almost brand new Salford City Academy which is co-sponsored by the Diocese of Manchester and a Christian educational charity called United Learning Trust. The Academy sights an OFSTED report in support of its contention that over the last three years its innovative strategies have produced record breaking results which place it in the top forty of the country’s most improved schools. On our panel here Andy Burnham used to work for Tessa Jowell when Labour was in Opposition and he is now after a meteoric rise her successor as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Pauline Neville-Jones spent much of her career in the Foreign Office. She’s also served as Defence Advisor to John Major when he was Prime Minister and Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. She’s now in the House of Lords where she’s David Cameron’s Shadow Security Minister. Jenny Willett has long had an interest in international affairs and especially in development issues working among others for Oxfam and UNICEF UK. Entering the Commons in two thousand and five she is now chief spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats on work and pensions. Matthew Parris entered the Westminster arena long before any of his fellow panellists first as a Conservative MP and then as a peerless parliamentary sketch writer for the Times. Renowned today for his Saturday column in that newspaper and for his Radio Four programme Great Lives he’s the fourth member of panel. [CLAPPING] Our first question please.

WRIGHT
Paul Wright. Why if SATS were intro... introduced as a benchmarking tool for teachers and children have they developed into a stress-laden, crisis-prone procedure?

DIMBLEBY
Matthew Parris.

PARRIS
I think the whole exam things has gone crazy. When I was at school we had little exams in our class but they weren’t national in any sense. And the first big exams that ever came up were the O Levels and then the A Levels. And the publication this week in a number of newspapers of, of two essays side by side by two students, one of which was plainly a lot better than the other but the good one got a lower mark than, than the bad one, I think it’s doomed public trust in this whole process. And I, I would expect .. [CLAPPING] I’d expect that at the very least the, the, the company concerned will be in danger of losing their contract. But actually people should look at the whole SATS idea.

DIMBLEBY
Pauline Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
Well I agree with just, what’s just been said. I don’t think we can go on as we are. I mean when I was at school we used to have tests every year but not all of them were public. I mean the school was, was able to be relied upon, to test the children at the end of the year. And that school was regarded as good enough be, as being an authority on whether that kid was getting on or not. And you didn’t actually have to go public in order to demonstrate that progress in the school was being made. And something’s gone very wrong I think with our schooling system that we now have to insist on sort of public reference and league tables and everything else to see whether our schools are doing a good job. So I think we need to think it all again. And that company certainly, I don’t think you need an enquiry. You sack them. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Secretary of State.

BURNHAM
Well I think it’s important to separate the issues that have come out of the, the testing at the moment in the news and whether or not SATS are a good thing generally. On the first part of that I think clearly Pauline is right. There needs to be an enquiry. We need to kind of get to the bottom of what, what’s gone on there.

DIMBLEBY
She says you don’t need an enquiry. You just sack them.

BURNHAM
Well, okay.

[CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Do you think she’s right?

BURNHAM
I think that might be a little bit premature. I think we should get to the bottom first of what’s gone wrong. But on the, the question which is should we have them, can I, I mean I represent a constituency not far from here and I see it in my own constituency that young people, if they’re not going to fulfil themselves, their potential, they start falling behind at primary school. And then they never really will catch up ‘cause they’ll lose confidence in the classroom and the ability to intervene and change their life and give them the kind of support that they need has gone really. If they get into secondary school and they’re already behind it’s very, very difficult to give them back the self confidence and the support they need. So that is why we have that system so that you can identify young people who need that kind of extra support to get them to bring them on if they’ve not got the parental support at home. Now you’re quite right there’s a balance and there’s a, you know you need to do these things right. You don’t need to over test. I quite would agree with that. But at the same time I don’t want to see a situation where young people in my constituency fall behind. We don’t know that they’ve fallen behind and then their life chances are, are drastically reduced compared to what they might have otherwise been.

DIMBLEBY
On the first point, the company ETS, Ed Balls has said he’s angry and he wants explanation and all the rest of it. Does the buck, you claim very often credit when things go well. Does the book not stop with the Secretary of State who ought to say “I’m very sorry about this” to those pupils and their parents and those schools?

BURNHAM
Well I think we’ve seen information coming out this week that as Mathew says it causes any right thinking person cause for concern. I saw those two pieces of, of text. I think you couldn’t help but think this; this raises some really serious questions. In my – I’m a Secretary of State in a department. Yes responsibility ends here. But the responsibility is to sort it out. That’s the responsibility. To get to the bottom of it .

DIMBLEBY
Don’t you think sometimes ...

BURNHAM
To get to the bottom of the situation ..

DIMBLEBY
There are one or two people in the ..

BURNHAM
.. and sort it out.

DIMBLEBY
There are one or two people in the audience shaking their head when you, when you said that as if – and you, you must have heard it yourself, people saying well why can’t the government say we are sorry for this. We will sort it out but we want to hear you say we as government are sorry.

BURNHAM
Well there’s a, there’s a developing situation. People have been bringing information into the public domain in the course of this week. And I’ll, let me say again, it is information that gives everybody, must do, cause for concern and suggests that things are amiss. Now it isn’t right though that you then immediately rush to point the finger directly because we don’t yet know what has gone wrong here, although it looks like things have gone wrong.

DIMBLEBY
Jenny Willett.

[LAUGHS]

WILLETT
That was quite a statement. I, I would just like to pick up something that Andy said just then which was about needing SATS to know whether a child is falling behind. The whole point of having teachers is that the teachers know whether children are falling behind. You don’t need ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah.

WILLETT
.. to be testing year after year to know that. And actually I think we should be getting rid of SATS all together. I think we provide too much stress. I think we provide far too much bureaucracy. We’re not enabling teachers to have the flexibility to teach what is most appropriate to the children in the class and to be able to instil interest and excitement about the fact that you’re learning something new. Because everything is measured. Everything is absolutely to the letter what you have to learn to try and get through the exams. And I think we’re completely undermining the ability of a lot of children to actually enjoy their time at school. And that I think we’re undermining the opportunity for teachers to enjoy teaching.

DIMBLEBY
Do you want to ...

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah.

DIMBLEBY
Pauline Neville-Jones.

[CLAPPING]

NEVILLE-JONES
Cleary what we want in our schools is very high standards. But the issue is is SATS the way to actually lever up the standards? We’ve got a roomful of experts here. And I think that Salford Academy is a very good example of a school that’s actually levered itself up. And we need to know looking at the experience you’ve had how you’ve achieved that. And I bet you anything it’s to do with the quality of the teaching and ..

BURNHAM
But Paul...

NEVILLE-JONES
.. the commitment of the kids.

BURNHAM
But Pauline ..

[CLAPPING]

BURNHAM
Although I don’t seem to have a majority with me here I don’t think you can totally – you’re saying that things have gone right. This is part of based on the system that has STAT, SATS as part of it. So you can’t just say there has been improvement therefore it’s all down to ..

NEVILLE-JONES
I think what every ..

BURNHAM
.. other, other, other things.

NEVILLE-JONES
I think what people are saying is, I sense what people are saying in this room is you don’t need to have public examination every single year in order to create a good school where there’s good teaching.

DIMBLEBY
It’s not part of your party’s policy to get rid of the public ...

NEVILLE-JONES
No. No. We believe in testing. We do believe in testing yes.

DIMBLEBY
.. and public identification of the results of schools.

NEVILLE-JONES
Yes but whether you need to do it ..

DIMBLEBY
So where’s the big difference?

NEVILLE-JONES
.. the way we are, the way we are ..

DIMBLEBY
Where’s the big difference between you and Labour?

NEVILLE-JONES
.. every single time.

DIMBLEBY
Where’s the big difference between you and what Andy Burnham is standing for?

NEVILLE-JONES
I think that the, the issue, the real issue is the quality of the school and it’s the quality of the teaching and it ..

BURNHAM
But there has to be some independent assessment of the quality of that school otherwise you will fail children.

DIMBLEBY
I’m going to go to our questioner ..

NEVILLE-JONES
I’m sure we don’t need to do it the way we are.

DIMBLEBY
.. then maybe come back. Paul Wright, you put the question. What’s your own thought?

WRIGHT
I’m part of a local charity which does social inclusion project who actually do the SATS. And we, we have a lot of issues with the young people coming to us saying – and I don’t think it’s just the schools that are the problem. We do have the problem with the parents. Parents aren’t supporting them. And they’re coming to us saying we need support. They’re stressed. And I don’t think, particularly at the younger age area SATS that they should be tested to that degree. It should be down to the teacher to be able to make their own assessment at that age and not create the stress in the public exam.

DIMBLEBY
Quickly Matthew Parris then we’ll move on. [CLAPPING}

PARRIS
Just a, just a point to Andy Burnham and through, through him to his colleague the Education Secretary, there are times in politics when you see where something is going to end. And once you’ve seen where it’s going to end you might as well just shrug your shoulders and do it straight away. This particular round of SATS is going to have be abandoned. It’ll either all have to be re-marked or it’ll simply be abandoned. That is the decision the Secretary of State’s going to come to in the end. And it would look good if he just shrugged his shoulders and admitted it now.

[CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
You, you may have thoughts about this issue. If so Any Answers after the Saturday broadcast of this programme, the new number is 03700 100444 and the email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Thank you for your question Paul Wright. Onto our next.

SLATER
Good evening. Janet Slater. As a disabled person I’m genuinely unable to work at present. And my Income Support is sixty five pounds a week. I cared for my disabled son for many years and thus have no savings. This winter I can not afford to both eat and heat my home. To what country do the panellists suggest I apply to for asylum to keep body and soul firmly together until next summer?

DIMBLEBY
Janet Slater if I may say ‘cause viewers would know but listeners don’t, you are actually wheelchair ..

SLATER
Yeah.

DIMBLEBY
.. bound. When you say you can’t afford both to eat and to heat because of the increase of the price of both you literally will either go to a degree hungry or will be chilly if the weather is cold?

SLATER
Absolutely. There is just, there is no way round it. I mean I, it doesn’t matter how I do my cooking, where I shop, it just cannot be done period.

DIMBLEBY
And your total income per week is sixty five pounds?

SLATER
Yeah, well I get Disability Living Allowance. Bulk of that goes to my motability car without which I’m a prisoner in my home. And bit over goes to my telephone and stuff like that. I honestly cannot – I really don’t know how I’m going to survive this winter.

DIMBLEBY
Jenny Willett.

WILLETT
I do think that the issue of fuel prices and in general the cost of living is a major, major problem. And a lot of people are really, really concerned. And I think the news today that our gas bills are likely to go up by another four hundred pounds on average is really terrifying for a lot of people. I think there are a couple of things that we could be doing that, that I would like to see being done that the government’s not currently doing. One of those is that the energy companies made a windfall of nine billion pounds from the European Emissions Trading Scheme. And that’s going back into the companies. Now I think that that should be put into energy efficiency, a really big programme to help people who are struggling with fuel bills, make their homes more energy efficient so that we can bring down the bills so that people in your situation aren’t having to pay out as much in the first place. There are some schemes but there’s not enough and there’s not enough money. And there’s a huge amount of money in the energy companies which I think they should be paying out for that. Another thing that we, I think we should be doing is looking at winter fuel payments. They’re far too small at the moment but they’re also for a very limited part of the population. I think people who are in your position, who are registered disabled should be receiving winter fuel payments as well. People who have disabled children ..

DIMBLEBY
Which is currently two hundred pounds ..

WILLETT
Yeah and I ..

MAN
... [Inaudible] ...

DIMBLEBY
One hundred pounds for people in care homes.

WILLETT
Yeah and it does need to be increased as well. But the other thing that I think we could do is actually make sure that that goes into longer term things. So looking at energy efficiency for example again. So actually that you invest your two hundred pounds and you don’t just have two hundred pounds worth of extra fuel paid that year. Actually it saves your bills year on year on year ..

DIMBLEBY
Okay.

WILLETT
.. so actually over time you’re better off.

DIMBLEBY
Secretary of State ..

WILLETT
I do think it’s a big worry.

DIMBLEBY
.. Janet Slater faces this predicament like I imagine many in a similar state this winter. Can you help her?

BURNHAM
Well I think anybody listening to the news will, will understand and sympathise with some of the, the points that, that Janet’s just put forward. I mean the, the news about, about gas prices as Jenny just said. I mean this is, these are difficult times. The, the rise in oil prices and the fluctuation in oil prices clearly is causing difficulty and it has a knock on effect to the rest of the economy. There’s been some forty percent increase in, in food inflation. So these are very real pressures that in the end hit directly very much on people’s, people’s lives. What is the government doing about it? Well this week obviously Alistair Darling announced that the, the increase in fuel duty would be, would be postponed and announced that to the House so that people, people know that. As Jenny said, I mean Jenny mentioned winter fuel payments I think though the government doesn’t get a great deal of benefit of the doubt at the moment, this is the government that has increased those significantly to help people deal with the costs of, of fuel. I ..

DIMBLEBY
But not apparently to people with disabilities. So it’s over, it’s the pensioner population and, and some of those who are in care we just heard from a member of the audience. But there, there is an exclusion from people on very low incomes from that benefit?

BURNHAM
Well I mean that’s, that’s a point obviously that, that we need to look at. I mean the, the issue that you’re, facts that you’re bringing forward I think are shared by many people, are facing you know difficult times. And people are feeling, feeling the pinch. Obviously it’s a, a time when there’s you know not, not easy to make a whole range of new spending commitments. And I don’t think you know anybody would, would thank us for doing that. So you know there isn’t any – I’m not going to sit here tonight say we’re going to do all of these things now immediately and, and take all the pressure off. But over time the government has put in place financial support for, for people with disabilities, for older people. And we continue to have to work to help people through difficult times. But they are difficult times.

DIMBLEBY
Pauline Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
I think the thing that makes Jenny’s position special is her immobility. And you know if I were trying to go to the core of where I think I should try and help her most directly it actually would be to increase the fuel payment. ‘Cause it seems to me that when you’re immobile you get cold and you get, and you haven’t got the option that other people of going out for a bracing walk or doing whatever it is that actually will keep you you know fit and, and, and you know less cold than you might, might otherwise be. So that’s where I’d want to try and, to try and put the help. I think increase the fuel payment.

BURNHAM
Is that a spending commitment only I just need to know what you know ..

NEVILLE-JONES
No I know. I’m ..

BURNHAM
It’s easy to say something like that.

NEVILLE-JONES
It is, I know it is, I know it is. But I’m saying that I think that that is where the, her need as distinct from the able bodied population is probably greatest.

DIMBLEBY
Matthew Parris.

[CLAPPING]

PARRIS
Well that’s fair enough. But were I a minister and were I to suggest that if the able bodied couldn’t afford to heat themselves they should go out for a bracing walk to warm up I think I’d get a pretty angry response from the public. I, I’m not in favour of special allowances and special grants for special groups. It always sounds good when you announce it. And then you get into difficulties with people along the borderline. And then maybe people who are not disabled who have just as big a worry about fuel as Janice does. I think that the benefits to which people are entitled should depend in a very direct way on fuel costs. But I think that just as when fuel costs go up benefits should go up people should accept that if fuel costs come down the benefits would come down.

NEVILLE-JONES
Mmm. That’s fair enough.

[CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Have you had any comfort of any kind Janet from that?

SLATER
To be quite honest no. I hear Andy Burnham saying yes this, you know these are difficult times and you know. Oh phooey. I mean when one, someone in this apparently wonderful democratic country and all the rest of it who’s living way beyond, sorry below the poverty line, way below the bread line and has real choices of whether to eat or to heat your home or whatever, you know this is not just a difficult time. These are choices that people in our country, not just me, yes, there’s a lot of other disabled people – I don’t know, one parent families, whatever, who are having to make this choice, yes? And it’s not just a difficult time. It could be life threatening. And to just sit there and go yes well we’ve all, you know and we’ve got the, the fuel companies are making billions ..

DIMBLEBY
Okay.

SLATER
.. and the fat cats ..

DIMBLEBY
Sorry I just wanted to ..

SLATER
We’ve got the fat cats making millions and the fuel companies. It’s not good enough. It just is not good enough.

DIMBLEBY
We must move on. A quick response if you want to Secretary of State.

BURNHAM
Well I mean I don’t want to, and there’s point me quoting statistics about what we’ve done in the last ten years. Suffice to say that I think we have a, a good record as a government in raising the standard of living for people as for, for older people, for people with disabilities. And we have a, a, in my view a proud record as a party in having always taken these issues seriously. Now I don’t wipe away or just simply dismiss what you’re saying. I understand what you’re, you’re saying. The government does, has put effort into helping people who are using prepayment systems as well which can be really expensive for people on the, on the lowest incomes and help them into systems where they don’t have to pay through the nose for a prepayment system. There are things that we can do, practical things that we can do to help. So it’s not that I’m not listening but I simply cannot do what Pauline did and just make a spending commitment, say ..

NEVILLE-JONES
I ..

BURNHAM
.. yes let’s just ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Come on.

BURNHAM
Raise the benefits. I mean I don’t think the country ..

NEVILLE-JONES
I did not ...

BURNHAM
.. can thank the government to simply ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Not in government.

BURNHAM
.. in times like ..

DIMBLEBY
Okay.

BURNHAM
In times like this. I don’t think the country will thank the government for simply making spending commitments which would get us into deeper finan.. deeper economic trouble.

DIMBLEBY
A very quick response to that if you want it Pauline Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
Well ... stuff. I mean you know I’m not in government. But it’s very clear that ..

BURNHAM
Shadow minister.

NEVILLE-JONES
.. the thing that, the thing that is most acute in Jenny’s situation is her immobility. And you have to respond to that.

BURNHAM
Pauline you’re a shadow minister.

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah.

DIMBLEBY
She said she wasn’t in government and that’s one definition of not being in government.

NEVILLE-JONES
Accurate I would say. Accurate. Accurate. Accurate.

BURNHAM
Jonathan shadow ministers help to make policies so the ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah.

BURNHAM
.. public can judge whether or not they are ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah.

BURNHAM
.. a fit ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah.

BURNHAM
.. government ..

NEVILLE-JONES
I am, I am ..

BURNHAM
And it’s relevant what she says on this matter.

NEVILLE-JONES
.. responding to – yes. I’m responding to what seems to me to be the relevant, the relevant ...

[CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Can we get, can we get, what, what .. let’s get it absolutely clear ‘cause Secretary of State wants us to be clear. You are saying that there is a great need in this particular case but you’re not saying that the Conservative Party is going to have it as its policy, they will meet the need?

NEVILLE-JONES
How can I possibly say we’re – I don’t know when the government is going to hold an election. We will see when we get to that point what we can do about it. What I am doing is responding to what seems to me to be the relevant thing to try and do.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. [CLAPPING] And we’ll go to our next and not unrelated question.

GAREDO(?)
Robin Garedo. Is it prudent to borrow more money than you can afford to repay?

DIMBLEBY
The Treasury, the context I imagine, the Treasury is considering whether or not to increase the percentage of national income which can be borrowed by the state from forty percent upwards.

GAREDO(?)
Yes fiddling the books, the fiddling of the books to increase the forty percent level to a level much higher.

DIMBLEBY
Is it prudent to do this or would it be prudent to do this? Matthew Parris?

PARRIS
Well I wish that when my bank manager calls me about an unauthorised overdraft .. [LAUGHS] .. I, I, I just wish I was able to say well what you don’t realise is actually for me the economic cycle started last week so .. [LAUGHS] I want to set off present borrowing against future income. But the point about this really is that the, the golden rules, Gordon Brown’s golden rules were always really just spin. They were never as clear as he pretended that they were. But he set great store by the apparent rigour and clarity of them. Now they’re an embarrassment. They’re not so rigorous and they’re not so clear. And we can all say well they never were in the force, first place. But it’s not really for his, from his mouth to say that they always were nothing more than public relations. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Is the, if that’s the politics of it is the economics of it that it doesn’t actually matter in the end under certain circumstances whether you do increase or don’t increase the, the share from forty percent upwards or downwards?

PARRIS
Well you, you try not to borrow too much but there are circumstances in a depression in which government, government borrows money to, to repay when times are good again. The difficulty about all this is that Gordon Brown has always said there wasn’t going to be a depression. No return to Tory boom and bust was his phrase.

DIMBLEBY
Jenny Willett?

WILLETT
I think it’s, it’s actually quite a complicated issue. And it’s one of those things that from, from an individual’s perspective I would rather the government borrowed than put my taxes up. And I’m sure that an awful lot of people, particularly people like Janet as you know, feels that at the moment. So from personal perspective and when you’ve got an economy that’s in real deep trouble, putting taxes up is not a, not a very good idea. But I think the big problem with this is that the rules are made by the government and then they mark their own progress. Going back to the issue of SATS they’re effectively being the American company themselves and they’re judging whether or not they’re doing a good job based on their own, their own rules. And that’s never a good way to get an independent assessment of how, of how the economy is going. And I think what should, what we should do is we should have an independent body looking at it and making a decision as to whether or not it’s prudent and whether it’s sensible and what should be done. The same way that we have an independent body looking at inflation. And I think there’s that measure that separateness, that, that is actually a much better way of judging whether the, whether it’s prudent, whether it’s sensible and what is in the best interest of the country.

DIMBLEBY
Baroness Neville-Jones?

NEVILLE-JONES
Well it does, it does very much look as if you know the government is paving the way for doing one of two things. I mean either you know increasing borrowing even further or, or sticking our taxes up. Because the great problem is that, that you know the, the rules that they, that, that the now Prime Minister invented have reached their limit. We shall see what, see what he does. I mean there is, there is a problem. We now have in, in, in, in Europe we have, we have the highest borrowing, the highest debt, public expenditure in Europe. And we’ve also got the highest interest rate so we’ve got no room for manoeuvre. And that’s part of the problem is that there’s nothing in the kitty now you know that the weather’s not so good, the w... economic weather’s not so good you know to actually put a bit of pump priming into the economy to tide us over until the economic situation gets better. So there is a, there is a, there is a real problem here. I mean my answer to your question is we should not be here. And you know prudence shouldn’t have got us into this situation. There really is a problem. Now what is the government going to do? I mean I hope Andy Burnham’s going to tell us what the government’s going to do. But it’s very clear that we do have to get a situation in future where, and I think the, the notion that we must have external bodies actually monitoring and indeed you know to an extent forming the rules themselves instead of the government as was just been said make, marking its own progress. And so we really do need now I think not only to have independent monetary policy but also to have fiscal controls which lie outside the, the scope of the government.

DIMBLEBY
So you remove, you remove economic policy entirely ..

NEVILLE-JONES
No.

DIMBLEBY
.. from the ..

NEVILLE-JONES
No. No but ..

DIMBLEBY
.. elected politicians and turn it over to ..

NEVILLE-JONES
.. no absolutely not ..

DIMBLEBY
.. a Bank of England lookalike?

NEVILLE-JONES
The government, the government does not regard itself as having removed economic policy as a result of, as a result of putting, making the Bank of England ..

DIMBLEBY
If you’re taking fiscal, if you’re taking fiscal measures out of the equation amongst others doesn’t leave you with ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah.

DIMBLEBY
.. much left does it?

NEVILLE-JONES
No but if you can, you can certainly put, if the government, when the government puts forward a policy that it is going to have, you know whatever its, its limits are, those are things which people have to have trust in. And therefore you see, you certainly do need to have some external monitoring of it. And I think that’s part of the problem now is that people have absolutely lost trust in the government’s first of all its determination to follow its own rules and then to tell the truth about them. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Andy Burnham.

BURNHAM
Well I mean I think Matthew ..

DIMBLEBY
Former Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

BURNHAM
Yes indeed. [LAUGHS]

DIMBLEBY
During the good times. [LAUGHS]

BURNHAM
And I think Matthew is quite wrong to say the rules are spin. I think on any objective test these rules have stood the British economy in good stead since they were introduced. We’ve had sixty three quarters of consecutive growth in the economy. And, and we have, I mean Pauline I’m afraid is not correct to say that borrowing is the highest here in Europe. It’s not correct to say that.

NEVILLE-JONES
It is.

BURNHAM
Borrowing here is lower than in France, than in Germany, than in most of Euro zone.

NEVILLE-JONES
...

BURNHAM
It’s lower than in the US as a percentage of GDP. In fact I think amongst our competitor nations it’s only higher in Canada. So some of those points made are just not correct I’m afraid.

DIMBLEBY
So why on that ..

BURNHAM
So ..

DIMBLEBY
Just on that ..

BURNHAM
But ...

DIMBLEBY
Why, why is there the obsession then with the forty percent if it’s higher ..

BURNHAM
Well let me ..

DIMBLEBY
.. in America which is a more prosperous economy than ours?

BURNHAM
.. let me answer the point. I think you know we’ve had rules because we would borrow only to invest. And we’re in a fine example this evening of investment in, in ... improve our country in the long, in the long term. But the point is because of these rules and because of the discipline in the economy we are now well placed to deal with shocks that are hitting every single economy in the world. And these are two shocks. The credit crunch and the oil shock. These are two shocks that are hitting every developed nation in the world. And because of the discipline in our economy we are well placed to deal with the coming period or the period now of uncertainty. Now that ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Pull the other leg Andy.

BURNHAM
That it’s, I’m afraid, I’m afraid to say that the story in the press just seem to me to be a non-story for this reason. In my experience, having been in the Treasury, decisions are not taken until right close ... PVR or a budget. It’s simply the case that you know what was the story? That Treasury are looking at something. I mean it was a, a completely non-story. Alistair Darling announced to the House only a couple of months ago that in budget two thousand and eight predicted that the rules would be met. We were on course to meet the rules in this cycle. And as I say as far as I was concerned this was just a story, speculation that is kind of like the, if, I would say the first, the first swallow of the silly season really. This is ..

DIMBLEBY
Well you didn’t, you didn’t do ..

BURNHAM
.. a story that has ..

DIMBLEBY
But he didn’t do much to quell the speculation did he in his interview this morning when he made it very clear that this was – he talked about reviewing which is one of those sort of civil servant speak words for we’re considering it isn’t it?

BURNHAM
No he said – ‘cause I was there at the time – in his first few days in the job that he would keep all of these things including the rules under, under review. That’s a sensible thing to do. And ..

DIMBLEBY
It’s ..

BURNHAM
.. I don’t see what the story is here. What is, what is new here? He said that ..

PARRIS
The story.

BURNHAM
.. on his first day in the job.

PARRIS
Let me tell you, let me tell you what the story is. The story is that we’re being softened up for him to do this and he is minded to do it.

NEVILLE-JONES
Certainly ...

[CLAPPING]

PARRIS
And just to remind the audience, did you say sixty three quarters of economic growth? And the Labour Party have been in power for is it eleven years. That’s forty four quarters .. [LAUGHS] [CLAPPING]

BURNHAM
You’re quite, you’re quite right Mathew. You are absolutely right. But let’s remember the quarter before those sixty three in the early nineteen nineties.

NEVILLE-JONES
Oh! Oh! Oh!

BURNHAM
When borrowing ..

DIMBLEBY
Could we possibly avoid going ..

BURNHAM
.. was significantly higher ..

DIMBLEBY
.. this far back.

BURNHAM
.. than it was, than it is today. And I think you might just remember that period.

DIMBLEBY
Okay I think they're reminding you of the Any Answers number for all that we are discussing. Now let’s get back to our question on this. Robin, Robin Garedo?

GAREDO(?)
Yeah just really to come back on, on Andy Burnham. You know I think the point is it’s too easy for you to blame you know the world wide economic recession, you know the credit crunch and so on. What you’ve actually done is actually spent all the money in the, in the kitty and now you’re having to borrow to help us out of difficult times. If you in fact you had had a sensible policy you wouldn't now have to borrow. You would have reserves you could use. I can only compare it to Salford. A Labour Council. They’ve done exactly the same. They’ve dipped into their reserves in order to keep taxes level. And you’re doing exactly the same in government.

BURNHAM
But ..

GAREDO(?)
It seems to me that you know Labour governments spend all the money and then have to borrow in order to, to get the figures to balance.

BURNHAM
But I was just making a .. [CLAPPING] .. I was, I was actually making a serious point in response to Matthew Parris because borrowing in fact was much higher under the Tory administration in the early nineteen nineties. It was significantly higher. It was forty three percent. And that is why, that is why the forty percent rule was introduced. And I think it’s ..

NEVILLE-JONES
... to get back there.

BURNHAM
.. I don’t think you can say, I really don’t think you can say oh the credit crunch, the rise in oil prices are not relevant factors, that it’s all home grown. I just don’t think you can say that.

DIMBLEBY
We’ll leave that there and go to our next question please.

O’SULLIVAN
Damian O’Sullivan. Should someone who has served their time be given a fresh start even if they are an athlete?

DIMBLEBY
Dwain Chambers has failed to lift the life time ban on him as a, an athlete because of his taking drugs. That’s what ..

O’SULLIVAN
That’s right.

DIMBLEBY
.. clearly you’re referring to. Now you can put on your culture hat or your sports had, Andy Burnham.

BURNHAM
It’s nice to put on my sport hat. I have to say I mean it, I support the independence, the autonomy of governing bodies of sport. And I also support the uncompromising stance that the British Olympic Association [CLAPPING] ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah.

BURNHAM
.. take. [CLAPPING] I mean I just don’t think you can have a you know a half hearted approach to these things. When you’ve got people trying their best now, absolutely now at this moment they are out there in the swimming pools, the country lanes of this country, ploughing up and down, getting ready for Beijing and they put their heart and soul into it over, over four years. And to have somebody else somewhere taking something illicit. I mean it’s just simply I don’t think there is any place at all in it for sport. So I think I was pleased when I heard the news today. As I say it’s paved the way in my view for an Olympics where we can celebrate the successes of our athletes who put their, their ev.. their all into getting where they are and we won’t have a, a controversy overshadowing the, the British team as we get close to the Olympics.

DIMBLEBY
Jenny Willett.

WILLETT
Well I think that if you, you know what the rules are and you decide to break them then you accept the punishment that goes along with those rules. And he was well aware of the fact that there’s a life time ban by the British Olympic Committee when he decided to take illegal drugs. And therefore once he was caught you abide by the punishment. And I think there’s absolutely no excuse. And I think there’s no way back. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Matthew Parris.

PARRIS
I don’t disagree with any of that. And what follows is not really an opinion, it’s just a little sort of worry in the back of my mind. I used to do quite a lot of long distance running myself. And what I love about the Olympics is that they find the person who can run the fastest in the world and jump the highest in the world and, and do the longest long jump in the world and swim the fastest in the world. And it just makes me a little bit sad that the thought that there might be people who are faster than the people who are winning. And there might be people who even when they’re clean, when, can still run faster even, even without drugs than, than those who are allowed to enter. It kind of spoils the Olympics if you don’t sense that those people who have entered are necessarily the best in their class. But I don’t think that he could be allowed back and I don’t disagree with Andy Burnham.

DIMBLEBY
Pauline Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
Nor do I. I agree. I mean I’d just say one other thing I think that I think it is very sad about Dwain Chambers that he should have ... wasted his talent in this way by doing something so silly which has resulted in the end of his, his competitive career and I think that’s really, really sad. I’d say one other thing though. You know people like Gwain, er Dwain Chambers are role models. And it’s extraordinarily important therefore that role models really do set an example and somehow aren’t, well actually flawed role models. So I think it’s, I think it’s a very sad story but I’m sure it’s the right outcome.

[CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
The way in which you put the question Damian O’Sullivan suggested you had some sympathy with Chambers.

O’SULLIVAN
I haven’t got a great deal of sympathy for him. I think it’s an interesting case. I was, I was slightly worried that it might go the other way, the court decision. I was pleased tonight to hear that it had gone the way it did. Looking forward to the Olympics. I just hope that more time and money will be invested into rooting out the people who are giving sport a bad name. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Andy Burnham.

BURNHAM
I think you put it, you put it very well. And it’s nice on this issue if not everything to you know be with, have the panel all together. And I think you said “looking forward to the Olympics”, and if I may Jonathan just say ..

DIMBLEBY
Sure.

BURNHAM
.. a word. Cos the Olympics, the Olympics has been subject to lots of criticism. I’m talking about twenty twelve now. But we’re only just a month away now before this country takes the Olympic flag and the Olympics ... Boris indeed takes the, takes the flag for us there.

DIMBLEBY
This is ubiquitous. We all know who Boris is.

BURNHAM
Yes. Yes. It would seem so. Even in, even in Greater Manchester. But I, I just think it’s wroth, it’s even, it’s worth just reflecting on that a moment. Because all the cynics, and there are lots of cynics and I read them in the press all of the time, that moment I think will be a really inspiring moment for the, particularly for young people in this country when we are then in the Olympic spotlight. And I think it will bring a real surge of interest and enthusiasm for, for London twenty twelve. And it would inspire young people for what they can do. And I just think for all of the criticism, the carping we hear I think the Olympic Games now will be great in, in Beijing and I think it paves the way for a really fantastic era of sport in this country.

DIMBLEBY
Given ..

[CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Given, given that you moved it, moved it to that, just in case there’s a member of the panel who takes a different view of them, Matthew Parris?

PARRIS
Not of the Olympics. But I don’t agree with Pauline. He is not, and runners and athletes are not role models. They’re runners and they’re athletes. And I don’t want to judge them on their, their private lives or anything about them except how fast they can run and how high they can jump. I don’t like this role model stuff. I want to see the fastest person in the world win the Olympics. [CLAPPING]

NEVILLE-JONES
We disagree.

DIMBLEBY
We ..

NEVILLE-JONES
We disagree.

DIMBLEBY
We will go to our next question.

GLUE
Roger Glue. Ministry of Defence today has confirmed that more than six hundred and fifty computers and over a hundred memory sticks have either been lost or stolen in the last four years. Many of them containing secret or restricted information. Can the government be trusted with our personal data?

DIMBLEBY
Shadow Security Minister?

NEVILLE-JONES
I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this, this news this evening. It’s extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary. And it’s been elicited, this information’s been elicited as a ... parliamentary question. This is not information that has been voluntarily divulged to the, to the public. You really do have to begin to wonder what the government thinks it does with data. These computers that have classified information on them you know should be under controlled conditions. It should not be possible to steal them cos these, this is apparently stolen data as distinct from lost data. How is it that they are kept in conditions or failed to be kept in conditions where they’re not actually secure when they’re not actually being used by the people who are working on them. That’s the first question you have to ask. Memory sticks, it sounds much more as if you know that leaves the building in people’s pockets. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. When people leave buildings they are as far as one can see going to have to be subject to physical search on a random basis. You have to stop this disease of actually data being lost, data being put in places where it is subject to, to unauthorised use, unauthorised access. It really is important. Some of this is apparently quite highly classified material. So the nation’s secrets really do have to be guarded. And it leads you to the other question if the government is so careless with the nation’s secrets is it really going to be careful about your and my information and your and my data. And we’ve had examples also there of you know the, the, the discs you know which contain what, twenty five million people’s, people on, who receive child benefit, their addresses, their, their bank account details. I mean this is you know en.., easy, easy stuff for people who can then make fraudulent use of it. Government really does have to tighten up. It’s not that departments don’t have rules. They do have rules. They’re obeying them. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Jenny Willett.

WILLETT
I have real concerns about the amount of information that the government holds on us. And we just have example after example of where it’s gone wrong. And it is a carelessness. I’m not sure that it’s all, often appears not to be malicious. It’s just a complete carelessness. Now with the amount of information that’s being held on, on all of us, I don’t want that in the hands of someone who’s going to be careless. I want someone to take deeply seriously the fact that they are holding personal, private information, whether it’s secret stuff about the Ministry of Defence, whether it’s names and addresses if it’s to do with your child benefit, your date of birth, whatever the personal information is about you. I want it to be looked after by somebody who is careful of that and is aware of how valuable that information is. And I, because there have been so many instances where it’s gone wrong I’m deeply concerned about the implications for identity cards, holding so much information on a big database, the DNA database which has millions of people’s samples on it. And the idea that has been floated very recently and I think has probably been slapped down about having a massive database of emails and telephone calls that we’re all making, thinking that we’re having private conversations. And the desire for, of this government to get as much information about all of us as possible and yet at the same time being completely careless and totally disregarding how valuable that information is I think is a seriously worrying trend. And I think it needs to be reversed. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Six hundred and fifty computers, a hundred USB memory sticks nicked or gone missing. What does it tell you Secretary of State?

BURNHAM
Well it tells me that when we had the situation when I was in the Treasury – I’ll never forget the day when the news was brought to us around the HMRC disks. And I think you know you can’t but at that moment be you know seriously stop in your tracks and think about the, the importance of these things, affecting nearly half the country as it did. I mean Pauline is right. Departments have rules I think she said towards the end of her remarks. And they do have rules. Crucially they have to be properly and regularly enforced and everyone in the organisation needs to know about those rules. Now since that moment all departments led by, a review led by Sir Gus O’Donnell the head of the Civil Service has been rigorously looking through the arrangements in all departments including my own, and I have personally been looking at my own, although the department doesn’t hold a great deal of sensitive information. And some of what is now coming out, some of the further stories that have come out is a result of that review, that process of going through and checking to use the phrase the fitness for purpose of the systems that are in place. I think what has happened here, and the question in some way has kind of emphasized it, is that life has really changed around us. Now somebody can wander home with a small thing, you know even size of a key ring that contains a lot of very sensitive information and yet perhaps those rules, have they kept place, pace sufficiently with those changes in our society? And those are the issues we now need to, to address. I think we need a new rigour about how people handle data. Then I personally do not shy away from that and I agree with much – not all – but some of what, that Jenny was saying.

WILLETT
Can I ..

DIMBLEBY
What do you, what does it tell us about the integrity of civil servants that six hundred and fifty laptops – leave aside the USB memory sticks for a second – that people in, civil servants are evidently – you don’t forget that you’ve taken a laptop home do you? [LAUGHS] I mean they’re nicking them aren’t they?

BURNHAM
Well ..

[CLAPPING]

BURNHAM
Well I, I don’t know. I .. It, it ..

DIMBLEBY
What it ..

BURNHAM
Well I just going to, just going on to say of course this government should be under higher standards than any other part of, of, of our society. Of course it should. But let’s remember – and esteemed members of the media on our panel this evening, some certain high profile media organisations have been losing high profile and information recently and ...

DIMBLEBY
No one ever thought journalists ...

PARRIS
I too remember when those HMRC discs were chosen, were stolen. And I remember the government’s immediate response which was to blame one individual ..

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah.

PARRIS
.. civil servant and suspend him and it turned out to be completely unjust. I draw a simpler lesson from all this. Don’t tell the government more than you have to because they’ll probably lose it or they’ll mix it up with somebody else’s details. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
We can just squeeze in one more question.

WILLIAMS
Jill Williams. Should Maggie Thatcher have a state funeral?

DIMBLEBY
Jenny Willett.

WILLETT
Well there’s been a massive row. I’m the Member of Parliament for Cardiff Central, South Wales. And there’s been a huge row in Wales recently because of a new piece of artwork put up in the Welsh Assembly which has massive faces, portraits made of metal of Aneurin Bevan and Maggie Thatcher. And the anger that this has brought out in the Welsh population of having Margaret Thatcher and, put up, writ large across the Welsh Assembly was really quite surprising for some people and not surprising at all for others. Personally I don’t think so. But that is entirely my personal view as a child of the eighties.

NEVILLE-JONES
Yes.

DIMBLEBY
Pauline.

NEVILLE-JONES
Yes ...

DIMBLEBY
Pauline Neville-Jones. I – you can elaborate to a moment or two.

NEVILLE-JONES
Right. No I think all our post war prime ministers other than, other than Winston Churchill, she is the best known round the world. She’s an extraordinary figure. And she’s, she was after all the first and very I think, very outstanding. Not everybody agrees everything she did by a long way. But remember what she achieved also as a woman. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Andy Burnham.

BURNHAM
It’s a difficult question I think. Thankfully, I mean these issues are not decided, not decided by me. But I think it shouldn’t be, it shouldn’t be a decision just of the government of the day for instance. It should be a decision taken more broadly. I think if you don’t mind I’m going to slightly sit on the fence on this issue. It’s not something I’ve actually given a great deal of time to. But I think generally they should be for figures who do a great deal for the country and obviously where there’s a degree of unanimity about their, their role in public life.

PARRIS
I think it’s ..

DIMBLEBY
Matthew.

PARRIS
.. disgraceful the way this got out. It’s demeaning, it’s vulgar. I, I, I’m afraid it came from elements within the government. And I just can’t think why they did it. I, I think that if Margaret Thatcher were able seriously to respond to this I’m not sure that she would like the idea. I admire her enormously. I wouldn’t, I’d go as far as to say that I adore her. And I do think she’s the .. [JEERING] I .. [CLAPPING] .. I, I do, I do think she’s the greatest, I do think she’s the greatest peace time prime minister of the last century and I don’t think, I don’t think [JEERING] ..

WILLETT
No, no.

PARRIS
.. and I don’t think that she should have a state funeral. And I don’t think she would want one.

DIMBLEBY
On which note I’m afraid we’re at the end of this week’s programme. Join us next week in Cirencester. For now goodbye.
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