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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions?  14 November 2008

CHAIRMAN: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY

PANELLISTS:

Rt Hon ROSIE WINTERTON MP: Pensions Minister


Rt Hon JOHN REDWOOD MP: Chairman of the Conservative’s Economic Competitiveness Policy Group


BARONESS (HALEH) AFSHAR, OBE: Professor of Politics and Women’s Studies at York University (crossbench peer)


KEVIN MAGUIRE: Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror

From the John Leggott College, West Common Lane, Scunthorpe, N. Lincs DN17 1DS.


DIMBLEBY:
Welcome to North Lincolnshire and to Scunthorpe where we are at John Leggott College a 6th Form College with a wide range of courses for a large catchment area. The college was founded in 1968 in the early days and so this year celebrates its 40th anniversary. It has a lot to celebrate with an A level pass rate of 98% almost half of which are at A and B grades. It is a Beacon College with all manner of other awards and a wide range of extra curricular activities. On our panel Rosie Winterton was once John Prescott’s Personal Assistant and later ran his private office, elected to Parliament in 1997 she entered the Government in 2003 and is now, since the last reshuffle, Minister of State for Pensions and she doubles as Minister for Yorks and Humber as well. John Redwood was in John Major’s Cabinet later a contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party. He now chairs David Cameron’s economic competitiveness group in which role he has been one of his party’s more ardent tax cutters. Haleh Afshar was born and raised in Iran but has long been a British citizen appointed to the Lords last year as a crossbencher, one of the peoples peers, she is Professor of Politics and Women’s Studies at York University. Kevin Maguire is the Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror where he has special responsibility for the paper’s political coverage and he writes the leaders. With Matthew Parris he is the co-author of a book called Great Parliamentary Scandals: Five Centuries of Calumny,Smear and Innuendo. So nothing much changes (LAUGH). Our panel.

(APPLAUSE)

Our first question please.

ROWENA CARR
What could have been done to save baby P?

DIMBLEBY
John Redwood

JOHN REDWOOD
This is a sickening case. I think most of us find it beyond comprehension that 3 adults could behave like this. We have paternal or maternal instincts to protect every baby and every child and we find it just unacceptable that this has happened almost unbelievable. What is so surprising is that all of the professionals and we believe that there were 60 different contacts between the baby and professionals in the run up to the ultimate tragedy didn’t see the warning signs or failed to do anything on the back of the warning signs and I think we do need a full independent enquiry, we do need to see why their judgement was so lacking. A lot of money was spent, a lot of contact was undertaken but the bruises were ignored, the broken bones were ignored, the obvious signs of stress and damage were ignored and we really need to know why and how in future all those professional people could do a better job of intervening quickly when they can see that the child is being that hurt and I do find it quite unacceptable that the very highly paid Head of the Service in the London Borough of Haringey says that they did everything right and that no one is to blame.

DIMBLEBY
(APPLAUSE) This is Sharon Shoesmith. Haleh Afshar

HALEH AFSHAR
I share the view that it is unspeakable and I have a grandchild who is about that age and the idea of harming a hair on her head I find unbearable so the idea that somebody could actually find it in themselves to do this and I actually think and I wonder how and what happens to people what actually makes them inhuman. And in some way I can’t offer you easy solutions you know it is easy to blame the social services but I just read that they are, social services are very very short of staff, they are short of staff and the members of staff have a caseload of 30 or 40 and you know I know that if I have supervisees, which are perfectly lovely young people, and if I have more than 30 of them I can’t recognise them. So it is a real burden and what I would like to think is whether as a society we can think of creating human beings who are much closer to their own humanity and who wouldn’t think of harming their children because something has gone very wrong when human beings actually harm their own children. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Kevin Maguire

KEVIN MAGUIRE
I have to look away when I see those artist’s impressions of the baby with the injuries trying to explain what happened and I have every sympathy for those who sat on the jury and had to look at that and hear the evidence and I forced myself to read what was done and it is abominable, unspeakable, the torture and the killing it is beyond comprehension. Clearly there were missed opportunities. That child was in and out of hospital, so much contact with the social workers, the police were involved but somehow the warning signs were missed. And if the proper procedures were followed the procedures are clearly wrong and have to be changed. However at the same time I wouldn’t want to demonize the social workers involved because the last 48 hours just hearing what social workers have to go through in terms of the workload for not a lot of money, the abuse they have to put up with, cunning conniving, scheming often threatening parents. You hear cases of dogs being set on social workers. One social worker spoke about how they once had to escape out of the window so as we try and learn the lessons and we try and get to the bottom of what went wrong I think it would be quite wrong to go after the social workers and sometimes in these cases a mob can grow up and be demanding heads, perhaps heads will have to roll but at the same time I think we have to appreciate the pressures the social workers are under. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
What Minister you are asked could have been done to save Baby P?

ROSIE WINTERTON
What could have been done to save Baby P was that the baby was removed from that flat much earlier than you know 60 opportunities there were, that baby was seen 60 times, why on earth wasn’t the baby removed from that flat and from the mother and from the adults who killed that baby? (APPLAUSE) You know what we must do. Nobody in this room can imagine how anybody could commit those unspeakable acts nobody and you now when we talk about the role of the social workers and I absolutely agree with what Kevin said I, as a constituency MP, I do meet social workers and I can tell you they are, I have never met an uncaring social worker. I have always met people who are dedicated, who do want to look after the people that they are set on to look after and what we have to look at is what exactly went wrong why in those 60 visits was this not spotted and what can we do in the future. We have to move quickly and I am very glad that what we are seeing is an enquiry to be set up which will report in two weeks back to Ed Balls, the Secretary of State, from the organisations, the Inspectorates that will go in and find out exactly what happened and as he said if there is action that needs to be taken with regard to management that action will be taken and it has to be.

DIMBLEBY
Minister. 6 months before the death of baby P a senior social worker through her lawyer wrote to Ministers saying that the statutory child protection procedures are not being followed in Haringey. You received one of those letters because you were a Minister of Health at the time. Do you remember that letter?

ROSIE WINTERTON
No I don’t remember the letter because. Let me be absolutely clear. There has been talk of political buck passing. I have to say I would be absolutely horrified if anybody thought I would do that, I would certainly not and I want to make that absolutely clear. I also

DIMBLEBY
When you say you don’t remember the letter why would that be? It came from Haringey. Wouldn’t that have sent all the alarm bells ringing?

ROSIE WINTERTON
The letter itself went to my constituency office and because

DIMBLEBY
Addressed to you

ROSIE WINTERTON
Addressed to me

DIMBLEBY
So what happened that you didn’t see it or don’t remember it

ROSIE WINTERTON
Because the letter was then sent by my constituency staff and John Redwood will know the way that if a letter which is sent to a Minister

JOHN REDWOOD
Some of us read out letters Rosie

ROSIE WINTERTON
A letter that is sent to you as a Minister that goes to your constituency office is then automatically sent on to the Dept. The Dept, because this goes to the Private Office in the Dept and because it was the responsibility of the DCSS it was then sent there. As a result of that the CSKI the Investigatory, the Inspection Body did go and have a meeting with Haringey Council to discuss the allegations that were made by the senior social worker so you know I do think

DIMBLEBY
In retrospect Minister do you wish you had seen that letter and had flagged it up?

ROSIE WINTERTON
Well Jonathan I have to say this is something that I have been obviously thinking a lot about today there is no doubt about that. Of course you think if you had seen something but I would also say that was important in this instance that as quickly as possible the allegations that were being made went to the Inspectorate Body that could then go and do something about it. The worse thing

DIMBLEBY
I think that some people during that would say this is an example of buck passing. It went to the constituency office, it didn’t come to me, it went to my office they sent it on (APPLAUSE) Rightly or wrongly Minister people like to believe that bucks stop with Ministers.

ROSIE WINTERTON
I know and I understand what you are saying because when you, when you say yes this went to my office and yes it was automatically passed on because as it referred to a ministerial matter it would be sent on as quickly as possible, it was then sent on as quickly to the proper Dept

DIMBLEBY
Now explain what happened, the point is why isn’t that regarded naturally as buck passing by you the Minister

ROSIE WINTERTON
Because what I am trying to explain is that in my view my failure would have been if I had had a letter addressed to me in my ministerial capacity that related to a health matter that I had just completely ignored what I wanted to see and what I was certain had been fulfilled in this case was that as quickly as possible the letter was sent to the Inspection Body that could then go and look at the allegations that were made. Now from that letter arriving in my office to getting to the other Dept was about 5 days and frankly if it had not

DIMBLEBY
So you don’t feel that you do have anything to say that you personally are sorry for?

ROSIE WINTERTON
Oh I am incredibly sorry

DIMBLEBY
And if you were to apologise for not seeing it or is it not appropriate because of the description you have given of how the system works

ROSIE WINTERTON
If you want to say look here because you were sent a letter you ultimately should have gone to see Haringey Council yourself then I would say that from what I was trying to deal with at the time in terms of making sure that you know in my job in Health yes there were a lot of things that we did to try to improve services overall but you know if I had had direct responsibility in terms of going to Haringey then obviously that would have been appropriate but what is appropriate at the moment is that the letter itself got as quickly as possible to the people who could do something about it. I am desperately, desperately sorry about what happened to that baby and I am desperately sorry that we were not able to do more to protect that baby. What we have to do is make sure that we are taking action as quickly as possible to try to stop this happening again and of course I apologise for that. Everybody does. Everybody feels it very deeply. I found it almost impossible to kind of read what happened to that baby. You know this has been a horrible week for everybody who I think cares about this. Everybody in this room will care about this. Everybody, the vast majority of people in our society will be so disgusted at the inhumane and cruel behaviour of the people who killed that baby and you know what we have to say is what more we can do.

DIMBLEBY
Kevin Maguire

KEVIN MAGUIRE
It is true everyone cares but clearly some people were in a position to do something about it. Now whether that turns out to be (APPLAUSE) whether that turns out to be Ministers who received these letters that may have never been read or whether that is just a false trail, a separate case that may have had no impact on what happened. Or whether it was the management of Haringey or was it Doctors, social workers or police. It is absolutely crucial to get to the bottom of it and to get to the bottom of it in the most sane and rational way to try and stop it happening again in whatever way. We will never stop people killing kids but we can minimize it.

DIMBLEBY
Haleh Afshar

HALEH AFSHAR
I am slightly worried about the concern or about the statement that every time a Minister gets a letter she should actually pick up her handbag and rush around and bash us on the head because I can well imagine a lot of my students writing complaint letters and I am very glad that there is a proper procedure so that if the Vice Chancellor gets a letter (APPLAUSE) he doesn’t come and beat me up. I just think I mean it is a ghastly thing that has happened but we also have to think of the social workers who were actually at the front line. Would it really have helped to have had the Minister come and hit them on the head for not doing their job before going through the proper procedure? I actually think there are proper procedures and they really have to work and we can’t have Ministers just jumping on us. As somebody who could be jumped I would mind it terribly.

DIMBLEBY
We will leave that that there with a reminder of the Any Answers number it is 03700 100 444 and the email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. That is after the Saturday broadcast of this programme.

We go to our next question please….


MARK BROMLEY
With regard to the speculation that this year the pre budget reports will include tax cuts how do you think the government will maintain it’s funding?

DIMBLEBY
Kevin Maguire?

KEVIN MAGUIRE
I hope the pre budge report does contain tax cuts and I hope they are aimed at the lower paid who will spend their money and particularly those who haven’t been compensated for 10p tax yet of which I think there are more than a million. But at the moment I think the Government has to increase borrowing and these are exceptional economic circumstances. The idea that you have to cut public spending elsewhere to fund tax cuts is for the fairies. Just about everywhere in the world in the industrialized world is talking about, what they call a financial stimulus including Barack Obama in the States. And that is economies are going down, give people money back, yes you have to pay somewhere along the line but hopefully it will be sunnier days in the future when growth will return and that will earn revenues which can pay for the tax cuts now but people need help and the economy, if we stick to the old rigid fiscal conservatism, championed by some parties with a capital C for the conservatives I am afraid it will just make matters worse so I just hope this time round Alastair Darling spends, spends, spends. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
John Redwood?

JOHN REDWOOD
The government has got us into a fine mess. It has followed a boom and bust strategy with its money policy, it told the banks to go and loan like there’s no tomorrow, it kept the interest rates too low for too long, now it is doing the opposite it kept interest rates too high for too long and it suddenly upped the requirements on the banks to have more capital to support any given body with lending so no wonder we lurch from boom to bust. I think it just take the biscuit then to have a supporter of the Labour Party implying that the mess is nothing to do with them and as long as they just borrow more money which we have all got to pay back at some time in the future they will suddenly put right the mess that they have created. The mess they have created was created by too much borrowing in the first place and now their remedy is to put a bigger overdraft round the necks of all of us in the room and in the audience out in the country. £2000 extra of borrowing on each of our credit cards effectively this year. Another £2000 probably next year on the sort of figures they are racking up. Yes I want tax cuts because I believe that people don’t keep enough of their own money and I know that family budgets are really pinched by the dreadful policies pursued in recent years. But they have got to be affordable tax cuts and this government has got to get on top of its overspending, its waste, and its massive investment in bank shares and get to grips with the budgets. Do they not realise that the pound has dropped by 30% in 3 months because the international community no longer has confidence in this Prime Minister and this Chancellor and if they allow that slide to continue by borrowing too much they will run out of luck to do the borrowing they need.
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Kevin Maguire

KEVIN MAGUIRE
John lift the scales from your eyes. Look across the Atlantic. George Bush a Republican President their economy is in severe trouble the new Democrat President Elect Barack Obama, how nice to say he is President Elect, he is going to have to spend to get out of that. Look at Germany gone into recession today, officially gone into recession, Angela Merkel is a right winger probably not as right as you but she is a right winger. Actually probably not many people are are they? (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
John Redwood

JOHN REDWOOD
Stop the cheap jibes and talk about the serious condition your party has put the country into please for Heavens sake this is a serious national crisis.

DIMBLEBY
Can I John can I bring you to your point just to take it forward if we can. You said affordable tax cuts and then implied that something had to give somewhere in order to make those tax cuts affordable. What if you were now the Shadow Chancellor would you be saying to the government that they now have to cut or get rid of in order to have tax cuts?

JOHN REDWOOD
Well I am saying as me John Redwood that they can’t afford to put all this money into bank share capital that they want to make the tax payers pay for that of course they must support the banks and they do that as lender of last resort and they do it by guarantees and they make those as short term and as well covered as possible but £37 billion of hard earned taxpayers money and borrowed money going into bank shares, banks that are very big in relation to the size of the country is an enormous risk to be running.

DIMBLEBY
Does that mean?

JOHN REDWOOD
…also believes that things like ID cards and regional government are not needed and we should be saving that money and we can give that back to the public.

DIMBLEBY
But (APPLAUSE) given that we are dealing with the likely fact that the government is not going to reverse it s investments in the banks and in=deed your Party has not sought to have the government at least in front bench remove

JOHN REDWOOD
Well my Party opposed the nationalisation of Northern Rock which has cost us £3.5 billion

DIMBLEBY
But let’s stick with where we are at this moment. Are you therefore saying that unless the government is persuaded to withdraw that degree of commitment then there cannot be any tax cuts?

JOHN REDWOOD
I am saying that we need to find space for tax cuts, that it would be the height of irresponsibility to fuel the fire of too much borrowing and the sliding pound with yet more borrowing, we cannot afford it, we will be called up short by the international markets they are not watching the warning signs just as they didn’t watch the warning signs in August of 07 when they allowed Northern Rock to go down. It could have been prevented. Just as they didn’t watch the warning signs in the August of this year in the run up to the next phase of the banking crisis. A lot of this crisis was made in Britain. Yes there is a global banking crisis but the bit made in Britain with Northern Rock the bit made in Britain with Bradford and Bingley that was too much lending to British people to pay too much for houses and they got that wrong on their watch.

DIMBLEBY
Again where are now you being Chairman of this very important group set up by your Party leader, do you say this to him and do you say this to the Shadow Chancellor look you ought to be calling on the government to withdraw from, resign from this commitment to the investment in banks.

JOHN REDWOOD
Well I am very pleased to say my Party did oppose the nationalization of Northern Rock, it did attack the handling of it and yes I have made no secret of my views Jonathan. I write a daily blog and a lot of people read it.

DIMBLEBY
Very well. Rosie Winterton


ROSIE WINTERTON
Well I think John Redwood and the conservative party must be, no country in G20 believes that we shouldn’t be doing something to stimulate the economy at the moment and for John Redwood to talk about overspending and waste under a Labour Government when we are sitting in a college which is about to be rebuilt with £43 million of investment when we are sitting in a town where surrounding it we have something like £70 million of investment going into building new schools I mean that is about the future. That is about making sure that we provide the best education, the best health services, yes these are public services, John Redwood particularly I think does not believe in that kind of public investment but I

JOHN REDWOOD
Nonsense, Rosie nonsense

ROSIE WINTERTON
John Let’s face it I look at my own constituency I look at South Yorkshire when in 1997 1 in 7 people were working in South Yorkshire for less than £2 per hour that was scandal which afflicted this area for many years and I have to say you vociferously opposed the national minimum wage something that has made an enormous difference to the poorest people in our society

DIMBLEBY
Hang on in these very important areas we are wandering somewhat away from the central issue raised by our questioner. Are you, if tax cuts are needed, the Minister who said that the price of that will be tax increases down the road is that a price you have to pay to get the economy off the ground again is that right?

ROSIE WINTERTON
Well there are two things here. First of all yes what we need to look at is what can stimulate the economy. We need to look at the fact that demand has fallen back. We need to do something about that. Some of it can be tax cuts, some of it can be public investment as well of the type that I have talked about

DIMBLEBY
Does that mean that given the scale of the borrowing that that entails that there will be tax rises down the road to pay for the tax cuts today?

ROSIE WINTERTON
Well not necessarily because if what you do (LAUGH) if what you do is build confidence back in the economy and keep people in work then the tax take increases. The problem that you have in an economic downturn is obviously if you increase unemployment then you get less tax in now what you do need to do is to look at what can be done to rebuild confidence in the economy which is what we have done and to talk about not helping, not stepping in with HBOS, not stepping with Northern Rock, not stepping in with Bradford & Bingley which John Redwood has opposed for this region would have had enormous implications.

DIMBLEBY
Sorry

JOHN REDWOOD
I did not say that Rosie please do not constantly distort what I said. I said of course they had to be supported but by loans and short term measures not by buying the equity.

DIMBLEBY
I just want to stick forgive me with Mark Bromley’s question how will government maintain funding is the core of the question. Your colleague in your Dept Tony McNullty said it would involve tax increases down the road he was very open about it you are saying it wouldn’t necessarily involve tax increases. Which of you is right?

ROSIE WINTERTON
Well as I said it depends on if you can stimulate the economy enough to improve the employment situation you have more people in work and therefore you have more people paying taxes now if you can through that get back on an even keel it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to increase taxes. That is the point; the point is to get confidence back into the economy, to get people back into work

DIMBLEBY
OK Baroness Afshar

HALEH AFSHAR
Well having looked and heard both parties I have a feeling that political parties are bad keepers of money and I am beginning to think that the bank(APPLAUSE) and actually my worry is that the banks are also bad keepers of money (APPLAUSE) so why not give it back to the people I mean after all we had the recession under the conservatives, we are going to have one under Labour and the only way we came out of the last one was thanks to the consumers so come on lets give the money to the consumers. They will consume and we will do better so I think people know best let us have our money

ROSIE WINTERTON
Jonathan can I come in again. I was in this area on Monday with the Humber Economic Partnership looking at what the situation was and I think this is a very important point. That at this time we do have through the regional development agency a very effective way of analysing exactly what is happening in different sectors of the economy and particularly at a very local level and the reason why I think that is important is because for example here in Scunthorpe I visited one of the companies on Monday where they were supplying smaller supermarkets with food and what they said was that because of the current economic situation peoples habits had actually changed and they were more likely to be shopping locally and what that meant was that for their section of the economy it was actually they were saying that their business was going to be 10% at the moment.

DIMBLEBY
So this is a kind of always look on the bright side argument is it

ROSIE WINTERTON
At the same time the caravan industry has been suffering. We have some areas but what we need to do is have a very careful analysis of exactly what is happening in different areas so that we can at regional and local level assist those companies that are in difficulties and stimulate others…

DIMBLEBY
OK Sorry I must bring in John Redwood again and then we will move on

JOHN REDWOOD
I don’t think the minister is listening or understands how serious this crisis is. If you wanted to buy an item in dollars 4 months ago priced at $2 and 5 cents you would have paid £1 tonight if you wanted to do that you would pay £1.40 that is the magnitude of what has happened. We are much poorer as a result of this policy and it is out of control

HALEH AFSHAR
Can I just remind you of Black Wednesday when in fact we had such a fall in a matter of minutes so no government is immune

JOHN REDWOOD
Not as big as that

HALEH AFSHAR
It was

JOHN REDWOOD
It was not a good event but it was not as big as that.

(LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
Briefly Kevin Maguire

KEVIN MAGUIRE
Of course John knows that a falling pound is good for exports but some tax rises are good for instance look at Barack Obama in the States he is going to tax the top, the very richest 4% who earn about £160,000 equivalent in here to fund tax cuts for the rest. Now I think it is absolutely outrageous that you have investors now who pay a lower tax rate than their cleaners in the city.(APPLAUSE) Gordon Brown, Alastair Darling have dodged this and they should confront it head on the Lib Dems to their credit have actually got a policy maybe their sums don’t quite add up but they have a policy that they would cut the basic rate of income tax by 4% by increasing taxes on the richest and cutting some big projects such as Trident. Now if the government can do that you can actually have it both ways here if you go after the very rich who lets face it have the deepest pockets and pay the lowest rates of tax.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Our next question please

ROBIN MILLER
What advice would you give to Prince Charles on his 60th birthday?

DIMBLEBY
Haleh Afshar

HALEH AFSHAR
Well I am a great fan of Prince Charles I actually think that he is wonderful and I have thought that for a long time because we happened to be at the university at the same time and I remember trying to sell him the Socialist Worker. (LAUGH) There were two things that were wonderful first of all that he was after all the heir to the Queen and the future King of England and yet as a student I just tapped on his door went into his room and started explaining to him that he absolutely needed to know about socialism in order to be a good King

DIMBLEBY
Was he very grateful for this advice?

HALEH AFSHAR
He was absolutely lovely actually but he didn’t buy it. He said that he didn’t carry money. And I actually think that the work that he has done is fantastic. Not least and that is something that I feel very strongly about his wish to be the leader of all faiths. I think his inclusiveness and his real understanding of the problems of minorities and his projects to encourage them are stunning and I think that I can give him no advice other than say carry on wonderful man.
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Kevin Maguire

KEVIN MAGUIRE
Well I think my advice to Prince Charles which I am sure he will be looking for will be to buy a Stena chair lift and a Zimmer frame because I don’t think he is going to become King if he becomes King at all for some time to go because his mother looks very sprightly at 82, his grandmother lived to 101 or 102 he is 60 now. I think the previous record for somebody to become king I was 64 was it the Duke of Clarence in 1830 who become William IV and I think he lasted 7 years not very long. I think there is never going to be time for this particular novice there he is, he is 60 and he is still an apprentice. I do have a less starry eyed view of him and if he thinks about socialism it is socialism in one family and my advice to him would be to stick to the Prince’s Trust which I acknowledge does brilliant work and I am a Republican would quite like the whole Royal family to go but I accept it will be there while the Queen is there and he will be alright while the Queen is there but I would say to him to keep out of politics and he does veer into it too often, always denying it banging on about hunting and so on and I think he will get every grumpier as he grows up and I think it will become a danger he will become a very said 70 year old Prince still waiting to be King

DIMBLEBY
John Redwood

JOHN REDWOOD
I am delighted he seems much happier and is more at peace with himself than in previous decades and I think he has found a series of important and good roles. Like other panel members I think the Princes Trust charity is extremely good. Like many people I suspect I like some of his campaigns more than others I don’t agree with all of them but I thought his first one, the one on architecture was brilliant I almost lost my place driving my car when I first heard it over the radio that he had made this intervention because it was against all the protocol of the Royal family in those days and then I thought wonderful you have said something that isn’t party political which needed to be said to spark an important national debate and I think our architecture is a lot better today than it was then. It isn’t just because of Charles but it was a very important intervention. I think his work on youth opportunities is superb and we need much more of that in our broken society and I am glad he provides that kind of leadership. When he becomes King of course he has to change because he won’t be able to speak out in that way and so the only advice he doesn’t need from me which I will share with the audience that of course he has to drop some of those campaigns and speak for everybody in soft tones and not have strong opinions when he becomes King but I think he has many years ahead with his mother in such good form doing what he does and I just hope he goes on doing it because I think he enriches public life.

(APPLAUSE)


DIMBLEBY
Rosie Winterton

ROSIE WINTERTON
Well I would advise him to use the free bus pass that he will now have thanks to the Labour Government to jump onto a bus make his way up to North Lincolnshire spend a week here then spend a week in Yorkshire so that he can help us to promote this region as an excellent place to visit, stimulate our tourism and you know I think that would send, he would love it I am sure he would. We would organise a very very good North Lincolnshire and Yorkshire welcome for him and he would have a great time

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
His people may say that the Princes Trust and he are already involved in that in other areas in both those two counties but no doubt

ROSIE WINTERTON
Absolutely right. He does a lot of work. The other thing that I would want to give him to celebrate his 60th birthday was something that I was given by first of all the Yorkshire Society which is this suit which is a pinstripe suit but if you look very carefully it is made of

DIMBLEBY
Which most listeners find it difficult to do at the moment

ROSIE WINTERTON
What I was going to say Jonathan is that if you can do that trick that they do on the radio you know when they say for the benefit of our listeners I will just describe the suit that Rosie is wearing

DIMBLEBY
You are doing very well. It is a brown suit or a grey suit

ROSIE WINTERTON
No, not it is navy and it has a very small pin stripe

DIMBLEBY
How long does this description take Minister?

ROSIE WINTERTON
What we would do is we would give him one with Yorkshire down there and then one with Lincolnshire and that would again send that very strong message about what a marvellous place this region is.

Made entirely from wool, sadly the wool was from Australia however everything else

DIMBLEBY
It is made entirely from wool that comes from Australia

ROSIE WINTEERTON
But made completely in Yorkshire from Australian wool because apparently our sheep in Yorkshire get a little chilly so our wool has to be used to make coats for the Chinese army.

KEVIN MAGUIRE
I don’t think Prince Charles would mind about Australian wool his family used to own the place.

ROSIE WINTERTON
Even better

DIMBLEBY
I think it is probably time to move on to our next question


JAMES O’SHAUGHNASSEY
If the Post Office network is such a trusted brand why did the government create such uncertainty over its future?

DIMBLEBY
Kevin Maguire, the government has done what some people have described as a U turn in retaining its right to distribute through its cards the huge monies each week that go out in pensions and social security rather than going private.

KEVIN MAGUIRE
Yes the Post Office card account £1 billion worth over 5 years, was it 4.3 million pensioners and benefit claimants use it. Why did the government do what they did? Well initially because they were mad and they thought (APPLAUSE) they thought that they could somehow get a cheaper deal with a few shops and close a few post offices and reduce a subsidy but thankfully they have seen sense and they renewed that contract but they should never have gone down the road that they did. The Post Office network is just brilliant it is a jewel in public services. Why it is so neglected (APPLAUSE) why it is so neglected by a labour government I don’t know and I know that John Redwood shares my sense of wonderment why they treat the Post Offices so badly.

DIMBLEBY
Is that the case John Redwood?

JOHN REDWOOD
Yes it is. They inherited 19,000 Post Offices in the network in 1997 after their current round of closures there will only be 11,500 left and they were thinking of closing another 3000, according to the stories, if this latest adventure had gone through but those that say to me there is no waste isn’t this a wonderful example of just the waste that we wish to condemn, that they spent a lot of money in organizing this competition, that taxpayers are now going to have to compensate 3 different bidders for all their costs putting their bid together and the government after a very long time and lot of expenditure decides that it was a bad idea after all when we and many campaigners around the country and many Labour MP’s had been telling the government right from the beginning that this should not go ahead and would not work. Another example of waste and very foolish decision making so I do hope (APPLAUSE) they will learn from it and I do wonder where they get the two different lots of lawyers from at the beginning we were told this is an EU legal requirement we could do nothing about and today we are told the EU legal requirements have changed but there has been no amendment to any of the legislation.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Haleh Afshar


HALEH AFSHAR
Well I think that they like me have found that banks can’t be trusted and so really there is no other alternative except the Post Office. I must say as someone who must have written dozens of letters about Post Offices I could not imagine why Post Offices would be closed and I think that many of us who have gone regularly to collect our child benefits and those of us who continue to collect the pensions know that the post office very often in villages very often is the hub of the community and particularly for people who are not very mobile, for people who have children, for people who are in wheelchairs for the old and the young which are after all the majority of people in this country they cannot reach the distant post offices and it is terrible to just kill these centres of society. I have watched them go in the Yorkshire Dales and I just feel, I don’t understand why they did it and I am just grateful I don’t care how much money it costs they are worth it. Thank goodness they are going to keep it and long may they remain. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Minister can you help James O’Shaughnassy why did you create such uncertainty over the future of the post office he wants to know?

ROSIE WINTERTON
Well first of all let me say that I am absolutely delighted that we have been able to make this decision. I know as a constituency MP how important the post office is to my constituents and I know how important it is in areas like this.

DIMBLEBY
Were you one of those Ministers who had to support the government because you take the Whip but privately you were in your constituency saying I am in favour of keeping the post offices open as we know other ministers did?

ROSIE WINTERTON
When there were proposals to close post offices in my constituency I actually went to visit all of them some of the postmasters said look actually we have got a real problem because not as many people are using our service as we used to and actually we do need to we cannot continue in the way that we are. Ones that said they felt they still had a viable business I said look you know I am very happy to make representations on your behalf to the post office in order to show that the business is viable so I think you do as a constituency MP have to say what is going to be in the best interests of all your constituents but if I have got a sub postmaster saying to me look this is not viable then you now frankly you can’t argue against that.

DIMBLEBY
Can you, partly to answer John Redwood’s question but others have raised it, can you tell the taxpayers how much as a result of this long competition and the compensation that now has to be paid what the overall cost has been to the public purse, to the taxpayers.

ROSIE WINTERTON
A lot of the negotiations that are going on I am afraid are commercially confidential and you know I am sorry as much as I would like to be able to say I can disregard the advice I have had

DIMBLEBY
Is that because you are still negotiating the amount that you are going to pay these companies that are going to be compensated

ROSIE WINTERTON
There will be negotiations that continue to go on yes there will

DIMBLEBY
So will there a point at which the government will say we have cost you so much or will it never be known

ROSIE WINTERTON
Because of the fact that we will have a commercial agreement as well with the post office itself it is difficult to say that you can give away what is commercial information what I can say is that in the public interest in terms of the tax payers value for money this is a good decision and it is a good decision because it will provide an incredibly valuable social network as we talked about. People value the post office, my constituents do, people will here and I do think it is important to say what we need to do now is welcome this decision and make sure which is one of the things that I will be doing is make sure that we can look at other activities that the post office can undertake to ensure that is keeps that viability. That is what we all want to see and it was widely welcomed in Parliament yesterday and I hope it will be today

DIMBLEBY
OK There was one voice that said resign but you smiled graciously and didn’t accept the invitation Minister. We can just squeeze in one more with a reminder of the AnyAnswers number again on this or any other issues of course 03700 100 444 and that email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk.
We can squeeze in this question please


ALISON BARTLE
If John Sergeant can make it to the halfway point of Strictly Come Dancing how long would you last in the jungle?

DIMBLEBY
You are very familiar of course John Redwood with the context of this question

JOHN REDWOOD
I am indeed I think I have turned it down on more than one occasion so can tell you exactly I wouldn’t even get to the jungle. I am so green I want to have the airfare.

DIMBLEBY
Rosie Winterton

ROSIE WINTERTON
Well as Minister as well as for Pensions for ageing society and I think it is fantastic that we have John Sergeant who is a little over 50 maybe and Cheri Lunghi who is 56 you know out there at the top of the people voting for them fantastically popular I think that is great

DIMBLEBY
OK you didn’t answer quite the question never mind I have got to move on in any case
to you Haleh Afshar

HALEH AFSHAR
I would love to be asked to do the dancing but the jungle is not for me

DIMBLEBY
You will get the invitation. Kevin

KEVIN MAGUIRE
How long would I last? Until I had murdered Esther Rantzen

(APPLAUSE AND LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
If you can hear that from the jungle Esther you can ring in to Any Answers. That is all I am afraid we have got time for this week. Join us next week when we will be in Tonbridge in Kent for now Goodbye.

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