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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions?  7 November 2008


CHAIRMAN: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY

PANELLISTS:


 Rt Hon HILARY BENN MP: Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Rt Hon THERESA MAY MP: Shadow Leader House of Commons and Shadow Minister for Women


BARONESS (Ros) SCOTT: Liberal Democrat peer

ANDREW ROBERTS: Historian

From the London School of Economics, at the New Academic Building, 54 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3LJ.

DIMBLEBY:
Welcome to London and the London School of Economics the world famous academic institution founded towards the end of the 19th century by the famous Fabian quartet, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Bernard Shaw and Graham Wallis. Today renowned as a centre for the study of the social sciences the LSE has almost 9000 full time students and has so far produced no less than 14 Nobel Prize winners. We are in the brand new £71 million new academic building which was opened by the Queen last Wednesday. On our panel Andrew Roberts is an historian of international renown the author of distinguished and prize winning works, his latest Master and Commanders – how Roosevelt, Churchill,Marshall and Alan Brooke Won the War in the West (not a short title) has attracted the kind of reviews that will be envy of his peers. As you may imagine he has taken a particularly interest in what is still called the “special relationship”. Hilary Benn is the Security of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs though part of his erstwhile brief, climate change, has been hived off to the Energy Dept. Did you mind losing that?

HILARY BENN
No I think bringing the two together was absolutely the right thing to do.

DIMBLEBY
Hand on heart

HILARY BENN
Yes I do because energy is responsible for a huge proportion of our emissions so bringing those policies together makes a lot of sense and shows we are continuing to provide leadership in the world

DIMBLEBY
Theresa May must wish she had never used that term nasty party as people like me always use it to introduce her so this time Theresa I won’t do it. Suffice it so say that she is the Shadow Leader of the House and Shadow Minister for Women in which role she seems to have a very nice relationship with her opposite number Harriet Harman. Ros Scott has had a career in local government but since the millennium she has sat in the Lords for the Liberal Democrats and she is competing against Lembit Opik to succeed Simon Hughes as President of her Party. What have you got that Lembit hasn’t or is it the other way round?

ROS SCOTT
(LAUGH) I am not going to comment on that. I am being dignified. I have been criss crossing the country addressing rallies, massed thousands of people all through the day; tomorrow I take my team of lawyers

DIMBLEBY
OK we won’t go there, got it, got it, got it and at the count you will make sure you have won if you can.

ROS SCOTT
Absolutely.

DIMBLEBY
Anyway the result is known on Saturday afternoon. She is the fourth member of our panel.

(APPLAUSE)

Our first question please

RAYNA COULSON
After the election of Barack Obama do you think that the world might now finally stop hating America?

DIMBLEBY
Theresa May?

THERESA MAY
I think there will certainly be a different attitude towards America. I think there is a real opportunity now for America. I think Barack Obama has quite a lot of real, really difficult issues that he will be dealing with and I think for him one of the challenges in the coming weeks is going to be about actually managing people’s expectations of what can happen when he actually takes over the Presidency on 20th January and I hope, I mean he showed tremendous integrity through the campaign and I think there is a real opportunity to be a President who is very realistic and honest with the people about what can and cannot be achieved.

DIMBLEBY
In so far as hate is the right term, which clearly for some parts of the world it is, why do you think it is likely that he will ensure that America is no longer hated. What is it about him or his election that makes that likely?

THERESA MAY
I think just his very election actually signifies a change in the United States and that in itself will lead people to believe they can see a different United States coming out under his Presidency. The fact that the US has elected a black President I think is very significant for large parts of the world when you know you look back it wasn’t that many years ago where black people in the United States were having to fight hard really hard for their civil rights so I think that will have an impact as well.

DIMBLEBY
Ros Scott

ROS SCOTT
Well I am a bit of romantic and I found this week just incredibly powerful and moving you know the sense in which people were inspired and inspiration is something that can be in short supply. We live in hard bitten and cynical times and so I found what we saw inspired me too. What I hope is that he can build on that incredible store of good will and there are some things that he could do very quickly on becoming President that would send out a rally powerful signal. He could for example close down Guantanamo Bay. He could make some really serious statements about the use of torture which has sort of besmirched the Bush regime. Some of those things could be done relatively quickly and would send out a really powerful signal that this is a man who is going to deliver all the promise that we think we have seen.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Secretary of State

HILARY BENN
Well like Ros I think it is an extraordinary moment in American History a day that many people didn’t think they would live to see and I think the American people took Martin Luther King at his word when 40 years ago he asked people to judge their fellow men and women by the content of their character and I think it was Obama’s character that appealed to the American people and just to see all of the people queuing in line to vote those voters wanted to cast their ballot and I think it was a triumph of hope over despair.. What change will it make? Well I think in the field of climate change it is clearly going to make a very big change. Because we are not going to get an agreement in Copenhagen next year unless the largest economy in the world plays its part and Barack Obama as indeed John McCain was and I think he was very gracious in his concession speech. Barack Obama is committed to America providing leadership in the fight against dangerous climate change and that will have a very profound impact on our small and fragile planet and we should applaud it.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
To answer directly Rayna Coulson’s question do you think that the world will now stop hating America

HILARY BENN
I don’t, I am half American my Mum was from Ohio so that moment when Ohio declared on you know the early hours of Wednesday morning sadly she didn’t live to see that day. I don’t think people hate America there are things that America has done that people do not like but America is a big influential country we need it to be a partner in the world we need it to play its part and I think it opens up a new chapter in the relationship between United States of America and the rest of the world and I really welcome that.

DIMBLEBY
Andrew Roberts

ANDREW ROBERTS
I think that historically the top dog power in the world has pretty much always been disliked and I think that when one looks at Ancient Rome, when one looks at the British Empire when we ran it I think the top, the most powerful nation in the world is never loved and I don’t think that the election of President Obama is necessarily going to change anything with regard to that. I think that America’s enemies are going to hate America just as much I don’t think it is going to effect President Ahmadinejad's quest for nuclearisation of Iran, I don’t think it is going to change President Putin’s attitude to America in fact he has already started sabre rattling over Poland. I don’t think it is going to change anything that Bin Laden and Al Qaida feel about America. Where it will be helpful I would have thought is in the PR aspect. He is obviously a genius when it comes to PR, when it comes to his own election, it was flawless. He is an orator and that is a very helpful thing to have but I wonder whether or not his hyperbole during that election has increased expectations to a degree that are just simply unrealizable.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Ros Scott?

ROS SCOTT
I think as someone who works with American students every summer I think the difference now is that America might not be liked but it may well be more respected and I think that is what we saw this week a nation that can get its self respect back

DIMBLEBY
Thank you we will go to our next.


JAMES HEATHER
The new US President has already declared his intention to acquire a puppy will he also be looking to the UK to provide a poodle?

(LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
Typical Any Questions?smart one. The special relationship I suspect you are interested in. Andrew Roberts?

ANDREW ROBERTS
Well I am afraid I have quite a revisionist answer on this. I do not believe, when I look at Tony Blair’s speech for example to the Chicago Economic Forum in April 1999 when he was talking about the overthrow of Sadam Hussein long before George Bush ever came to power, I do not believe that we are a poodle of the Americans. I think again looking historically for the last century I think that our interests have naturally elided enough in the past over the great issues, the great battles over Prussian militarism or Nazi aggression or Soviet communism and now totalitarian Islamic fundamentalist terrorism that in fact we just happen to agree. I don’t think that we are a poodle of the US

DIMBLEBY
If you look at other democracies. For instance in Europe or include Canada in they don’t get charged with being a poodle. They appear to some people at least to have a distinct national policy which sometimes aligns very closely with, sometimes is identical with and sometimes is quite distinctive from that of the United States. Is there a difference?

ANDREW ROBERTS
I don’t think there is in the English speaking peoples in the Canada you mentioned, certainly New Zealand and Australia and us we have tended to help America out when America needs help and they have certainly twice this last century helped us out when we did too. I think there is something that is much deeper, much more complex, much more frankly sort of clever really and intelligent than just saying poodle.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Ros Scott

ROS SCOTT
Well Andrew and I have got on very well this evening until now. This is a point where I think we part company. I mean it is my view that we have to an extent allowed America to develop into an unhealthy state of super powerdom in the past and I think we have done that by not working sufficiently with European partners and it is not I don’t mean that in a confrontational way, I don’t think that it should be Europe versus America but the only thing that can cause America to think again and to take pause is if a powerful concerted European voice could be brought forward and we have tended not to do that. I mean during the Iraq war we followed the American line and I have to say I disagree totally with Andrew. I cannot see how on earth it was in Britain’s interests to follow the United States into the war in Iraq.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Hilary Benn

HILARY BENN
Well I somehow think that the new puppy in the White House isn’t going to be a pit bull so we will see. Look the, I think the really important thing about this relationship is that it transcends particular Presidents/Prime Ministers administrations and we have to take a long term view. Has our relationship with the USA stood us in good stead in the world or not and Britain has a particular role because in a sense we are a bridge between Europe and the United States of America and you don’t have to go back well 50 or 60 years and the contribution that America played alongside Britain and other countries in overcoming Fascism if that hadn’t happened we certainly wouldn’t be sitting her tonight being able to have this conversation and speak freely. So you need to take a long term historical view and the second thing is where we have differences of view we are not afraid to express them. I have just referred to climate change. The fact is we have taken a fundamentally different view to that of the current administration which not all that long ago was denying that climate change was human made when the scientific evidence is very very clear or to take another example in the fight against HIV and AIDS America has put money in but we have had an argument about the best way to do that. I was the International Development Secretary. The fact is distributing condoms helps save peoples lives so take two examples we cannot be afraid to say what we think in a relationship because

DIMBLEBY
What is special about it? If you think that this very day Sarkozy President Sarkozy we are told, he told us had 30 minutes on the phone with Obama. Gordon Brown got 15 minutes. Is there something that gives us a special bridge between Europe that Sarkozy can’t do for himself?

HILARY BENN
Well I hope they are absolutely sure it was indeed President Sarkozy on the phone. (LAUGH)
But look it is not a competition in that sense. We are bound together by a shared history. Let’s be absolutely frank about it but it is a relationship that has evolved and matured over the years and I think it s important that we should try and have a strong relationship with the USA but like a lot of strong relationships they work best if each partner says what they actually think. That is what I believe. (APPLAUSE)




ANDREW ROBERTS
Can I also point out I have met President Sarkozy. He doesn’t speak a word of English that is at all understandable so half of that time would have been spent actually having it translated. (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
You have also met President Bush. Did that have to be translated?

(LAUGH)

Theresa May?

THERESA MAY
ell actually I agree with a lot of what Hilary Benn was saying about the nature of the special relationship and we are bound together by a shared history and by the fact that in times of difficulties as has also been referred to by Andrew actually the UK and the United States has stood side by side and in the past have actually fought together to ensure freedom, and freedom and democracy so the relationship is a special one but it does have to be that of a candid friend. It is important that the UK is able to say to the United States when we think that they have got it wrong and that we above all take decisions that are in our interests.

DIMBLEBY
What big things do you think America is getting wrong if anything?

THERESA MAY
Sorry

DIMBLEBY
What big thing if anything do you think America is getting wrong?

THERESA MAY
Well this is going to sound terribly boring because it is one of the issues that Hilary referred to as well but I mean like on the climate change issue that has been one of the issues and I think we have all felt that it was a great pity that America hadn’t signed up to Quito and there was more that America could have been doing. What I think is sad because the special relationship I think is very important is that the relationship between Blair and Bush was able to be portrayed by some as the relationship of the poodle and I think that damaged in the public perception the special relationship and I think it is important that we actually ensure that the special relationship is that of a candid friend in future because that is where the interests of both the US and the UK lie.


DIMBLEBY
Our questioner put the poodle question. Who in this audience feels that the relationship is one that can be characterised to a significant degree in that way that the relationship is one of poodle at the moment? Would you put your hands up? Those who feel it is a good relationship of equals would you put your hands up? Well the majority in this audience believe it is a relationship of equals and there is a significant minority who think to the contrary. If you want to have anything to say about that. After the Saturday broadcast of this programme the number to ring for Any Answers is 03700 100 444 the email address any.answers@ bbc.co.uk. Our next question please.


AXEL JOHN LANDIN
Do you agree with the Prime Minister’s statement this morning that the Labour victory in Glenrothes represents a vote of confidence in our government?

DIMBLEBY
Ros Scott? It wasn’t vote of confidence for the Liberal Democrats was it? You lost your deposit.

ROS SCOTT
Yes we did indeed as did the Conservatives and I am not going to try and pretend that that was a good result for us. I mean it is classic by election territory where two parties squeeze everyone else out and it was certainly how we won the neighbouring seat of Dunfermline just under two years ago by applying that so classic by election tactics but I think it was rally interesting that I think what lost the by election for the SNP was the arrogance of Alex Salmond who thought he knew they had won before he bothered to ask the voters.

DIMBLEBY
Is it a vote of confidence notwithstanding as our questioner asks, is it a vote of confidence in the government, the so called Brown bounce because of his handling of the economic situation.

ROS SCOTT
Well he likes a good crisis. He looks happier now than he has done for a long time and he obviously likes to get his teeth into it so I think there was something of that but I think this by election was the SNP’s to lose and I think they lost it by being arrogant and taking the voters for granted.

DIMBLEBY
Hilary Benn?

HILARY BENN
Yes is the answer to the question. (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
You have shocked the audience yet again

HILARY BENN
Sorry. If you had asked most pundits at the beginning of the week they would have said we think Labour is going to lose and Ros is absolutely right Alex Salmond was pretty confident too. In fact not only did we win but we polled more votes than we did in the 2005 general election in the constituency. Now Lindsay Roy was an excellent candidate but I think Gordon Brown was right when he said people are prepared to support a government that they think is trying to do their best to help them and they are less likely to put their confidence in people who they think don’t actually have a clue about what to do and I think that was the significance of that result. I also think you can interpret it as a vote by many people in favour of the United Kingdom because if there is one lesson and that is why Alexander Salmond has found things difficult of late is that this arc of prosperity that he had talked about. Ireland ranging through Scotland up to Iceland (LAUGH) and you don’t have to go much further. When times are tough we have to stick together and I think that that is also the lesson of this very important election result I have to say

DIMBLEBY
In that long string of by elections that the Government lost I remember and I am sure many listeners remember government spokespeople like yourself saying ah look by elections are about local issues don’t take any notice of them it is the General Election that counts now suddenly it is about general issues and not about local issues although we are told that you campaigned the Party campaigned extensively if not exclusively on very important local issues

HILARY BENN
We did indeed and I think it was a combination of the two because of course the SNP is in government there and they are doing one or two things that people don’t like.

DIMBLEBY
So it is opposition campaigning really rather than campaigning to support the government of the United Kingdom

HILARY BENN
Well no I think it is a combination of the two actually and if you compare the result in Glenrothes with the Glasgow East not all that long ago I think it is a very profound change and why is it a profound change because circumstances have changed and as John Maynard Keynes famously said when the facts change I change my mind. What do you do?

DIMBLEBY
I personally go immediately to Theresa May the other deposit loser.

THERESA MAY
Indeed yes although I think I should point out we did I am pleased to say manage to move ourselves from 4th place previously to 3rd place. I was tempted to say as Hilary gave a one word answer initially to the question that my answer would be no for a number of reasons. I think, I think it is about what has just been discussed. I think a lot of the issues at the Glenrothes by election were campaigned on, were actually local issues but I think the clearest message that comes from it is a dent in the Alex Salmond plans for an independent Scotland I think that was a clear message that was coming through that people did want the United Kingdom. I happen to believe passionately in the Untied Kingdom I believe that actually we are stronger together than apart and I think there was a message coming through from the voters of Glenrothes in relation to that.


DIMBLEBY
But it does coincide doesn’t it with general polls that have showed an improvement in the government’s position and a sense if one can detect it there from the polls as well that the conservative party and the Shadow Chancellor Mr. Osborne have not as it were matched the challenge of the Government.

THERESA MAY
Well Jonathan when you referred to our position in the polls I can remember the days when BBC commentators like yourself were suggesting that if we were even 5, 6, or 7 points ahead in the polls that that would be something tremendous for the Conservative Party and something that we were probably unlikely to achieve. We are actually 9 points still ahead of the Labour Party in the polls and I think that what we are doing as a Party is setting out for people the way in which we as a party in Government and the change that we would bring to this country. That is what we will continue to do over the coming months; it is what we have been doing in the current economic crisis setting out real examples of how we would help people in their day to day lives like the two year council tax freeze for example

DIMBLEBY
OK how do you read it Andrew Roberts a vote of confidence for the government?

ANDREW ROBERTS
Well I see by elections in the historical sense that they can they can give you a really weird and dodgy answer and especially Scottish ones. (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
Careful of the Race Relations Act

ANDREW ROBERTS
No nothing to do with Scotland. It is just that the Scottish you can be absolutely certain that in the United Kingdom General Election the Liberals and the Tories are not going to be losing their deposits. They have an entirely different dynamic up there and they should therefore, nobody should extrapolate from a Scottish by election anything that is going to happen in a British General Election.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you can I go back to our questioner on this. Axel John Langham what do you make of it?

AXEL JOHN LANDIN
Well I would agree with Theresa May that certainly a message coming from the people of Glenrothes was that people believe that Britain belongs together and but I would also suggest that the central message from the people of Glenrothes was that they want leadership that knows what it is doing in this period of turbulence and I think they will get that in Gordon Brown and the current government. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Hilary Benn was totally, Hilary Benn was totally at that point uncertain at first of what you were going to say and then gob smacked with delight.

We will go to our next question please.


PATRICK MURPHY
Will the 1.5% reduction in interest rates kick start the economy?

DIMBLEBY
Theresa May

THERESA MAY
I sincerely hope so. I mean it is a shot in the arm for the economy but I think the fact that it was such a significant rate cut shows the concerns at the Bank of England that the monetary policy committee had about the status of the economy at the moment and the extent to which we fact problems within the economy so I hope it does. It is good news that we are hearing that banks are passing that on because there was a great concern and it was discussed in the House of Commons yesterday was that up until now there had been some evidence obviously not always passing on the previous rate cut so I think that is good news but I think there are some other things that can be done as well to help people over this particular period of difficulty and some things that can help people in a really day to day sense and small businesses particularly I mean we would like to see small businesses payment of VAT deferred for say six months so that would help their cash flow. We would like to see the government not putting up the small business rate of Corporation Tax which they are proposing to do next year so I think there are some other things that can also be done which can provide real assistance to people but we do face difficult times and I think the rate cut was important, we have been saying that we thought there should be a significant interest rate cut. I think this is the right thing to do but as I say the fact that it was so, 1.5% rather than 1% or 0.5% shows the extent to which the concern was there about the state of the economy that we have come under sadly there are global issues but after 11 years of Gordon Brown as either Chancellor or Prime Minister.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Andrew Roberts

ANDREW ROBERTS
When people use and especially journalists use the phrase historic very often they use it wrongly but when you get to a state where interest rates are as low as they are today, the lowest they have been since Winston Churchill was Prime Minister that is a genuinely historic moment. My fear is what did the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England see that we haven’t yet seen which made them take this choice. They have obviously seen figures which are completely terrifying and it strikes me that there has been an awful lot of criticism of Mervyn King. I would like to stick up for the Governor of the Bank of England. I think that he really cuts the mustard. He, it is not a plum job; it is a bloody hard job. He has taken a series of decisions which a lot of people in the back seat are able later on to say oh well he should have done this earlier and this should have happened back in August but when you actually look at it day to day, week to week I think he has a fantastic job for this country. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Ros Scott there are a lot of commentators saying although this will help people who have existing mortgages tracker mortgages or whatever kind it won’t help those who are trying to get on to the housing ladder because of the amount of capital you have to be able to put down and it won’t stop, Andrew Roberts referred to it by inference, an acceleration in businesses going under with all that it implies for jobs do you think this would have, should have, can have the effect in reality of kick starting the economy?

ROS SCOTT
Probably not on its own. I think it is useful as a start. I mean certainly for you know people paying an average mortgage. It is a very useful sum of money to have in your pay packet or to have left every month. I disagree with Andrew I think the monetary policy committee has had its head in the sand for months now and as late as August they were advocating rises some members were advocating rises in the rate which is just mad. I am pleased that the banks capitulated under pressure today and have agreed to pass this on because it seems to me we are now in the situation where the public purse is expected to take all the risk when banks fail and when they do well they take all the profit and I think that is totally unacceptable and I think the other problem of course is we always discuss debt in terms of mortgages but in fact as Vince Cable has been pointing out for years we are a very heavily indebted nation. We have got something like 60% of all the credit card debt in Europe is held by people in this country. We have had a culture of debt for some time and a lot of people are going to be struggling to pay off loans, credit cards and so on so I think that we need some assistance from banks and financial institutions for people who are getting into difficulties that way because there are people who will lose their homes not because they can’t pay their mortgages but because they have second charges on other loans.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Hilary Benn?

HILARY BENN
To answer the question I certainly hope so. It is obviously a very significant move by the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee and I welcome the fact that the banks have moved fairly swiftly to pass that reduction on to all of us because the Government have made it very clear that we expected that to happen. I think it will help perk confidence because that is what is in desperately short supply at the moment because of the turbulence that is affecting the world’s economy and the government’s job in these circumstances is to do the right things that are going to help and the leadership which Gordon Brown has shown, and Alastair Darling in understanding what was happening to the international financial system fixing, trying to fix all the bits of the problem because when the Americans first put forward their plan just buying up the bad debt it only dealt with one part of it and Gordon Brown said look we have got to fix all the bits so putting in the liquidity and putting in the extra capital help we have seen the IBL rate, the inter bank lending rate which has been an indication of the lack of confidence there has been between banks in being willing to lend to each other that has begun to come down significantly exactly as a result of the action that we have taken. But look we are in for a tough and a difficult time and one has got to be absolutely straight about that.

DIMBLEBY
When you say tough and difficult do you mean a sustained long recession?

HILARY BENN
Yes.

DIMBLEBY
Tough and difficult that is a sort of wooly term

HILARY BENN
I think it is a straightforward term actually because we have seen what has happened to the economy we have seen what is happening to unemployment I don’t know how it is going to turn out I don’t know how long it is going to last but we have to be straight about the difficulties that we are in because of what has happened internationally. The real test for government is doing you make the right judgments about what should be done to help and I think that Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling certainly have done.

THERESA MAY
But Hilary I hear the Labour Ministers talking constantly about purely the global situation that has happened and this is all something that has happened out there and we are having to react to it. You must take responsibility as a government for the decisions that this government took which have meant that this country is and it is not just me saying this the European Commission have said it the IMF have said it is worse placed going into this recession than most of the other developed counties and there are decisions that Gordon Brown took in changing in the regulatory system for the banking sector that had an effect that was shown frankly fail as a system by the new tripartite system, the level of debt that we have in this country, these are factors that this is not just something that has happened out there and that we are having to react to. The Government has some responsibility for the depth of the problems that we are in today

DIMBLEBY
In the past Secretary of State the government has prayed in aid to the European Commission to solve that issue do you accept their conclusion that this country is worse placed than others in Europe apart from two to meet the challenge of these difficult times?

HILARY BENN
Well it is for others to make their forecasts and it is for the government to make its own assessment when we get to the pre budge report


DIMBLEBY
But this fares on the past doesn’t it. This is to do with whether or not the government placed the country in a strong position or allowed it to be in a relatively speaking compared with the others a weak position

HILARY BENN
Well I don’t agree that we are in a relatively weak position. In fact when one just compares the circumstances we find ourselves in now compared with what happened in the 80’s and the 90’s you look at the level of unemployment that we had at that time. You look at the growth that we have enjoyed since then the fact that we have been able to bring debt down as a proportion of our national wealth, the fact that we have taken the right decisions to put Britain’s economy in the best place possible recognizing the difficulties that we fact and the point about judgement is this and I would say in response to Theresa look on all the big decisions recently on whether we should take Bradford & Bingley in public ownership the Tory Party opposed it that was the wrong decision on whether we should take action on short selling you opposed it that was the wrong decision wondering that it wouldn’t be possible to get interest rates down that was the wrong judgement and frankly on your fair fuel stabilizer which you were trumpeting in the summer if that was now in place the price of a litre of unleaded petrol would be about 5p more than it is today now how would that help people facing a difficult time.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Ros Scott

ROS SCOTT
Of course this Government has some responsibility but so actually does the previous administration it was a conservative administration who deregulated the City, it was a conservative administration who allowed personal borrowing to get out of control and it was under a conservative administration that Building Societies demutualised and turned into banks

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Brief come back Theresa May before I move on.

THERESA MAY
Yes Hilary Benn talked about the years of growth that our economy had had of course the problem was that we had a Chancellor in Gordon Brown who kept telling everybody and tried to persuade himself that he had bought an end to boom and bust now that was we all know economies have cycles you do not bring an end to boom and bust and what happened as a result of the debt filled boom is that the bust that we are facing is according to those external commentators going to be tougher and harder than others.

DIMBLEBY
How do you answer your own question Patrick Mackey will it kick start the economy do you think?

PATRICK
I think it will pay a small role in reducing the size of the recession but recession is inevitable and many western economies even the most successful in the last two decades, Ireland is already in recession.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you we will go to our next question





ANN PETERKEN
Why is the government so keen on the third runway at Heathrow given global warming and falling passenger numbers (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Ros Scott?

ROS SCOTT
Well it is no good asking me that I am against it. (APPLAUSE) You know one of the effects of recession is that people use jobs and the growth of the economy as an excuse to do all sorts of things that really not ought to be done and one of the arguments you will hear about expansion at Heathrow is that it is good for jobs and I think that is rubbish. That money could just as equally be spent on high speed rail for example. It would be better for the environment and it would be just as good for jobs. We have all got to watch out there is a piece of legislation going through Parliament at the moment the Planning Bill which will actually take that sort of decision out of the hands of democratically elected politicians and it is going to create a new quango the Planning commission and it is going to make these sorts of decisions for you and when that decision is made by this quango as a citizen you will have no redress against them other than potentially ruinous judicial review so I think we will have to wait and see what the Secretary of State has to say.

DIMBLEBY
Andrew Roberts

ANDREW ROBERTS
I don’t think that it is such a bad thing to have a quango to decide things like this because I think you need a really long term, economic concept to it, I think you have got to look at what is going to happen beyond this cycle. The questioner mentioned a couple of things that were happening now. A third runway at Heathrow is something that is still going to be around in 50 years so I don’t think that it is necessarily a good thing that we should have the short termism of politics dominating this.

DIMBLEBY
Secretary of State why are you so keen to on it?

HILARY BENN
Well the government’s view is that there is a case in principle for a third runway for economic reasons but we have also said very clearly that in order for that to go ahead and there has been a consultation, the government is currently considering the results of that they would have to meet very strong environmental conditions and my particular responsibility relates both to air quality and to noise. On the climate change point because it is a very important one that has been raised. Europe has taken the single most important step to tackle the problems of emissions from aviation by bringing it within the European Emissions Trading Scheme which puts a limit on emissions and that means that if emissions from aviation in Europe go above the level that has been set then those who fly and the companies who run it will have to pay to reduce emissions elsewhere in the economy and the point about fighting climate change is as we get our emissions down and we need to. society will always have a choice about where we choose to emit and the truth is if we decide we are going to do more over here we are going to have to do less in something else and that is ultimately down to society and it will be very interesting it is not for me to take a poll but I wonder how many people in this audience here have been on a plane in the last 2 or 3 years because I would suspect a lot of hands would go up.

DIMBLEBY
It is so certain to be true that I am not even going to put it to the audience.

HILARY BENN
But it makes a point doesn’t it.

DIMBLEBY
It makes a point but perhaps we will put another question to them in a moment about the runway itself Secretary of state but if I can ask you first of all you touched on this thing of air quality yourself. Can you clarify there is a directive due to come into force in 2010 on nitrogen dioxide, very important pollutant, that will come into force in 2010 you hope and expect?

HILARY BENN
Well the directive is already in place but ourselves as is the case for a number of other European countries are not going to meet the limit in time and the new directive that was agreed earlier in the year allows member states to apply to the commission for more time to meet it. Now why have we got a problem because of existing pollutants, nothing to do with any decision that might be taken about a third runway or expansion at Heathrow. We have got a problem principally Jonathan from traffic around Heathrow, in the Marylebone Road in other cities in other parts of the United Kingdom and that is why I have said to the House of Commons we will very probably have to apply as will many other member states to the commission for more time to meet but we can only get an extension in the case of nitrogen dioxide to 2015. In the case of what is called PM10 which is basically soot we can get an extension to 2011 and at that point member states are going to have to meet the requirements of the directive and that is why I said earlier that any decision on expansion at Heathrow will have to be within the requirements laid down by the Directive finally when any period of extension we are given by the Commission has run out.

DIMBLEBY
Is it true you have been charged as a result partly of the production of documents under the Freedom of Information Act which have been published in the London Evening Standard that the DFT and yourselves at DEFRA quote “worked with DEFRA to ensure negotiations over the directive to which you were referring take account of the Heathrow position”. Did you so negotiate and if so should you have so negotiated?


HILARY BENN
Well of course Government Departments are going to talk to each other as we do all the time about directives that are coming up in Europe but as I explained and as I made clear to Norman Baker who raised this issue with me in the House of Commons the problem we have got is an existing one because we are over the limit, because of existing transport and car traffic around Heathrow and elsewhere. What is absolutely clear however Jonathan is that in the end member states will run out of time in order to implement the directive and will have to do it like everybody else and that has to be taken absolute full account of in any decision the government might eventually reach about a third runway or other expansion at Heathrow.

DIMBLEBY
Theresa May

THERESA MAY
The answer to the question is I have no idea why the Government is going ahead with this at the moment given that they failed to make the economic case and they certainly failed to make the environmental case and Jonathan has made reference to Freedom of Information enquiries the other thing that I think is outrageous is the way that the government has been so reluctant to actually let people see the figures on which they are basing their judgments about this third runway and it is only work by colleagues like Justine Greening in Putney over months of putting gin Freedom of Information requests that we are getting anywhere close to actually seeing the figures that the Government is working on. I also think that what is a problem with the government’s approach is that they seem to have been singularly unwilling to look at alternatives. Now we are willing to look at alternatives. We believe that you could take a third of the domestic flights out of Heathrow by putting into place a high speed rail link up the country from London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds. That is what we believe is the right course of action to take rather than going ahead with the third runway and we have made it absolutely clear a conservative government says no to a third runway and will scrap the plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

DIMBLEBY
Very briefly before I go to our audience. Secretary of State is your own mind because of your responsibilities and your general attitude open on this or are you enthusiastic about the prospect of the runway so long as it can clear the pollution hurdles.

HILARY BENN
Well I take my responsibilities for the environment extremely seriously and the purpose of having a consultation and then to weigh up the views is to reach a decision and I am not going to pre empt it by, because the government hasn’t reached a view this evening but it is important that we make sure that environmental protection is given its proper and rightful place in that decision and I would simply say to Theresa May and I listened with interest to what she had to say but I am dying to know whether you think Boris Johnsons’ idea for anew airport out in the Thames Estuary is one that should be pursued or not.

DIMBLEBY
We will leave that because that will open up a whole new area of interesting discussion.

HILARY BENN
You could ask her

DIMBLEBY
Well I will do you like Boris Johnson’s idea for this new airport? Is it a great scheme is you on for it?

THERESA MAY
That is Boris’s proposal. We

DIMBLEBY
Now I am going to ask Hilary Benn’s question before putting another one. Who has flown on an aeroplane in the last two years? Right every single person here. Surprise, surprise. Who favours another runway at Heathrow Airport having heard some of the arguments consistent with in the Secretary of State’s term meeting those pollution requirements? Who favours another runway, put your hands up, who doesn’t like the idea? Well overwhelmingly Secretary of State as you would acknowledge there is quite a challenge for the government at the moment if the government wanted to go ahead with it. We will leave that there reminding you of the Any Answers number because the vote was overwhelming against. The Any Answers number 03700 100 444 and the email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. We will go swiftly to our next please.





LINDA KIERNAN
400 two and three year olds excluded from nursery was a quote in the Times today. What price education?

DIMBLEBY
Unhappily we have to be much briefer than we would like and these are children who apparently the teachers are not allowed to restrain and don’t restrain for various reasons and they get excluded as a result. Andrew Roberts what is your feeling about this?

ANDREW ROBERTS
It strikes me that that is an outrageous figure. Absolutely outrageous and I think that teachers should be given much more power to deal with this. I don’t really, it is a terrible thing to say on national radio but I don’t care about the human rights of a five year old I think they should be absolutely told and taught how to behave properly in class.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
It is really very brief I am afraid Ros

ROS
OK I think there are clearly families where help is required at a very early stage and it is clearly something which I think Health Visitors need to be picking up and offering support because just giving teachers the legal power to give a 5 year old a clip around the ear actually isn’t going to solve anything.

DIMBLEBY
Theresa May?

THERESA MAY
I think we need to do both. We actually need to give teachers better ability to be able to deal with the children in the classroom and certainly able to restrain those children that they need to restrain but also we do need to look at the causes of why it is that those children are behaving in that way in the first place and we certainly need to look at issues like giving support to the family at an early stage which is why we would increase the number of Health Visitors and ensure there were regular visits in the first six months to a year of the baby’s life so that support was there at home.

DIMBLEBY
Sorry again it has to be very brief Secretary of State


HILARY BENN
Well I agree with Ros. I think this should give us cause of concern. With rights have to come responsibilities and that includes responsibilities on parents and the Sure Start programme tries to help parents in those circumstances and I am very sorry that a conservative government if ever we had one would take funding away from it because I think it is one of the best things the Labour government has done.

THERESA MAY
We have not …

DIMBLEBY
I am afraid we can’t explore that any more but if you want to discuss this issue please do ring in and we will make space for it in Any Answers and I can just give you that answer once more 03700 100 444. Next week we are going to be in Scunthorpe with Rosie Winterton, the Pensions Minister, John Redwood for the Conservatives , Haleh Afshar Professor of Politics and Women’s Services at York University and the Associate Editor of the Mirror Kevin Maguire,. Join us there from here in the London School of Economics Goodbye.

CHAIRMAN: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY

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