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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions? 12 December 2008

CHAIRMAN: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY

PANELLISTS:


Phil Woolas
Pauline Neville-Jones

David Laws
Fraser Nelson

FROM: St John the Baptist Parish Church, Hagley, West Midlands

DIMBLEBY
Welcome to Hagley, which is near Kidderminster in north Worcestershire. We're the guests here of the Friends of St John's Church, which is our venue for this programme and a very fine building it is, still retaining some of its Medieval heritage. And we're next door to Hagley Hall, home of the Lyttleton family, famous for one Humphrey, who unhappily died recently, and notorious for another, who was executed for his part in the gunpowder plot in November 1605.

On our panel: Phil Woolas, whose political stock in trade is tough talk, appearing to believe that the government should have a cap on immigration - I say appearing to believe, we may hear more about this later - a view which has caused some controversy, he says with the confidence of a Home Office minister who is indeed reflecting the government view - If I lose my job, I lose my job.

Pauline Neville-Jones was a senior diplomat and security specialist before joining David Cameron's team in that role. And in the Lords playing a crucial part in defeating the Prime Minister's 42 days pre-tile - pre-trial detention plans, saying they were unnecessary, undesirable and unworkable.

David Laws used to work for Barclays Bank before joining the Liberal Democrats as their party's economic advisor in 1994. He's now a member of the party's top team, a spokesman on schools, children and families.

Fraser Nelson worked for The Times and The Scotsman before joining The Spectator in his present role as political editor. He's the fourth member of our panel. [CLAPPING]

Our first question please.

TUBB
My name is David Tubb. In view of the decision of the jury in the de Menezes inquest what does the panel think will be the implications for the Metropolitan Police?

DIMBLEBY
Baroness Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
Well - this is not a good story is it for the Metropolitan Police? I think the jury in this case got as near as it was able to, given that it had been told by the coroner that it was not open to it to deliver a verdict of unlawful killing, to indicate their view of the conduct of the police. And this was an operation that clearly was not under control, it was not well commanded and it was not well executed and it's very serious when the Metropolitan Police are meant to have been trained for counter-terrorist operations that that one should have gone so badly wrong. And those who were actually conducting it did not turn up on time actually to start the beginning of the operation. So from beginning to end, as well as the control at the centre, this was a badly conducted operation. And the first thing I would hope therefore is the counter-terrorist command of the Metropolitan Police will learn the lessons of how to conduct future operations of that kind.

The second issue, of course, is who is going to take responsibility? Now that I do think that the Metropolitan Police do need to ask themselves some questions about the command structures and who is actually going to give us an account, we still have not had a proper account from the police of their own operation, we must have that.

DIMBLEBY
David Laws.

LAWS
Well we know that the police - and I think we should acknowledge this at the beginning - were operating on this day under very tough conditions. We know that we'd just had the attacks on London, we know that they thought that there were four suicide bombers - four failed suicide bombers - who were still at large. And so these were very, very serious threats. But what the events of the last year or so, in terms of the inquiry, has revealed is that there were also extraordinary errors made in terms of the identification of the particular individual, the process of surveillance before he was allowed to go down on to the Underground, the decision to allow that individual to go down on to the Underground network, even though he was considered at that time to be a threat. And the decision that was taken, under very, very difficult circumstances admittedly, to shoot effectively to kill without, we understand today from the inquiry, in the view of the jury, any warning - that was what they concluded. And so what we've got here is an incredibly serious incident where somebody ultimately has lost his life as a consequence of a whole serious of mistakes. And I think that we now, notwithstanding that the police were acting under the most difficult circumstances, they now need to have a serious review of those three big, big mistakes that were made to make sure that in an environment where potentially we face similar circumstances potentially again that we never make and repeat the mistakes that occurred on this particular occasion.

DIMBLEBY
Minister.

WOOLAS
Well Jonathan thanks - thank you. I was the civil contingencies minister at that time and on that day and I remember it very well and I remember the atmosphere during that period very well, where there was fear frankly in London. I think obviously the first reaction is to sympathise with the family but also to take on board what David said, to sympathise with the police. When one is faced with suicide bombers it is very difficult, a warning perhaps in situations can not be possible. So I think we have to sympathise, we have ....

DIMBLEBY
Sorry you say - you say a warning in certain circumstances is not possible - the five police legal teams and all the police insisted that they had given a warning, the jury believed all the witnesses who said that they heard no warning, nor did they see any suspicious movement from Jean Charles de Menezes.

WOOLAS
That's right. If you listen to the interview with the police representative this evening he was simply pointing out, not necessarily in this case, it wasn't clear, but that in the advent of being faced with a suicide bomber operational training does have to be different to that which it would be in a normal situation. So clearly we have to learn the lessons, the Met have to do that. I also think we have to thank goodness that we live in a country where our public services, such as the police, are held to account in such a thorough way, I wouldn't like to do the job myself. But I would plead with people to blame the people where the blame is really due and that is the terrorists - we mustn't lose sight of the fact that our police are operating and were operating in the most difficult of circumstances, as others have said, and sometimes I fear that we're too quick to blame ourselves and not blame the cause of the problem which is this terrible terrorism that the world faces.

DIMBLEBY
Fraser Nelson.

NELSON
[CLAPPING] I'm not sure a different verdict would have a different impact on the Metropolitan Police. The inquiry itself has exposed the incredible shortcomings and the shabby way in which this whole exercise was conducted. And it makes you realise that in 2005, four years after the attacks in New York and Washington, our counter terrorism division still wasn't up to the task of working out if it did happen here how would we go after these guys, what are the procedures. Now we're told they're up to speed now and let's hope so but I think in the way that the police have been exposed in the last year and a half of all this they will have enough of a jolt, so I don't really think had they been done for unlawful killing it would have made that much of a difference, I think the lessons, hopefully, have been learned.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. We'll go to our next question please.

HENDERSON
Margaret Henderson. It appears that the increase in targeted stop and search policy on knives has caused a reduction in the number of knife crimes. Are the statistics to be believed?

DIMBLEBY
This comes in the context of Sir Michael Scholar, head of the UK Statistics Authority, writing a letter in which he severely rebukes No 10 and the Home Office - that's what's in your mind - for issuing statistics which had not been properly checked and were due to come out much later. David Laws.

LAWS
Well it sounds like we need a leak inquiry, doesn't it, I wonder whether this'll be another one where the government will send the police in and whether we will ever find out who actually leaked it. We, first of all, need to know who in government deliberately decided against the advice of the Independent Statistics Commission, to leak this information, was it somebody in the Home Office, was it somebody in No 10 Downing Street? It may be that with Phil here this evening we'll find out. What we do know already from Sir Michael Scholar, who heads the Statistics Authority, is that he considered that the release of data was premature, that it was irregular and also that it was selective - in other words we don't know that it represented fully the information that had actually been collected. And that is very, very disturbing. Disturbing particularly when we've got a Prime Minister who came to power saying that Tony Blair's great culture of spin was over and that everything would be done in a very straightforward way and really I haven't noticed an enormous change. And one of the reasons that I find this quite depressing actually is that quite a lot of the debate that we have in this country about crime is often based on perceptions which are completely inaccurate when you look at some of the statistics which are real. When you look at the gap between what people think is happening to some categories of crime and what is really happening there is an enormous gulf which generates huge fear for many people in our society. But by doing what the government has done in the last couple of days and leaking information in this way, in a selective way, the government has essentially got itself in a position where information has not been believed. And I think what we need to do is not only get to the bottom of what has happened in this case but we also need to ensure that all of this Home Office data in the future - and I would have hoped as much government data as possible - should actually be managed and should be released to the world not by government departments but by the independent Statistics Authority itself, so that we should never have this political manipulation of information again.

DIMBLEBY
Fraser Nelson. [CLAPPING]

NELSON
There's something really strange about this leak. Apparently the information wasn't due for three or four months hence, in which case why do it this week, why was the Prime Minister so keen to do it then? Now if you buy the Sun newspaper today you will see at the top of page 2 Gordon Brown turning up at a "No to Knives" photocall with the relatives of the victims of knife crime, where the Prime Minister was able to have his picture taken with Brooke Kinsella and Richard Taylor and announce that knife crime had actually fallen. Of course the Statistics Commission tells us now this was a misleading thing but it seems pretty clear what happened. Gordon Brown had a photocall in the diary and he had this data, which wasn't ready, but they obviously thought in No 10 well let's just publish it anyway because wouldn't that look good when we do a photocall - and that is actually what I think is despicable. It's not just a bad spin, this is you're misleading people whose relatives have been the victims of knife crime, you're misleading them into thinking things have got better when they haven't and it's absolutely shameful. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
No 10 and the Home Office, Phil Woolas, are implicated in the condemnation from the Statistics boss. What's your justification if any?

WOOLAS
Well let me first of all give you some facts because you're now listening to the hounds of political packs chasing the government.

DIMBLEBY
Sir - I'm asking - sorry ...

WOOLAS
Let me just, David, answer the point. First of all the government introduced the law that makes Statistics independent. The ONS and the commissioner himself were created as independent at our behest. So it is only because we've done that that we can have these checks and balances that I quite accept.

LAWS
Which aren't working.

WOOLAS
Well clearly they are working if you're able to hold us to account for them David. So secondly - secondly nobody, as far as I'm aware, has questioned the accuracy of the statistics, it is the process of release. And thirdly ...

DIMBLEBY
I'm sorry - well I must - just on the second point - on the second point - it is very clear that Sir Michael has. He says that the figures were unchecked and they were selective statistics, selective statistics. They hadn't gone through quotes "the regular process of checking and quality assurance".

WOOLAS
Jonathan, let me just give you some reassurance. Ministers get statistics from the ONS pretty much everyday, the process that we get ...

DIMBLEBY
You don't get letters from Sir Michael Scholar practically every day do you?

WOOLAS
Listen, the accusation has been made that the statistics on falling knife crime are somehow or other not accurate, that is not what has been said, ladies and gentlemen. What Sir Michael has pointed, as I understand it, is some of the criteria of the statistics, which the statisticians have not yet had the chance to verify - he's not saying they're wrong, he's saying they may be wrong - and that I understand is in the area of hospital admissions. Nobody's questioning the fact that the knife crime - and this is the important point - that knife crime has gone down. And the fact that we can have this row, this row about process, is only happening because we set up the independent checks and we are being held, quite rightly, to account.

DIMBLEBY
Can I ask you - can I ask you to respond directly to what Sir Michael wrote to No 10 and to the Home Office, your department? "I hope you will agree that the publication of prematurely released and unchecked statistics is corrosive of public trust in official statistics and incompatible with the high standards which we are all seeking to establish." Do you agree with him about that? That's a simple yes or no isn't it.

WOOLAS
If it was covering all of the statistics Jonathan then you would have a point but it's not ....

DIMBLEBY
I'm sorry, has he got a point - has he got a point?

WOOLAS
Of course he's got a point Jonathan.

DIMBLEBY
And do you agree with him or not?

WOOLAS
We have to, quite rightly, as a government, accept that, of course, that's why we set up the independent Statistics, under the Treasury, let me remind you. But that is not to say that all of the statistics - this ladies and gentlemen is a row about some of the statistics, the idea that there is a conspiracy behind this - I goodness wish that Whitehall was so sophisticated, I can assure you it's not - but the fact of the matter is that crime by knives has fallen and that's surely is what is important.

DIMBLEBY
But you do - you do - as I hear you - you say of course we have to accept what he's said, you do now accept that it was wrong prematurely to release these statistics or not?

WOOLAS
... to be fair - to be fair to me, I hope you will be in this audience, I don't actually know, I take it as read, Sir Michael is of course a distinguished gentleman and the overseer of independent Statistics, so if he's saying that I have to take it. But this is ....

DIMBLEBY
When you say you have to take it, he is saying it, it's a direct quote from his letter, so what I'm putting to you is you do - you do accept that it was wrong to do what No 10 did in releasing these statistics which as he said had not gone through checking ...

WOOLAS
Clearly, Jonathan - clearly if the procedures have been broken in some way clearly we accept that. But I just want to re-emphasise the point that it was this government that set up these procedures ....

DIMBLEBY
Okay you made that point twice so you'll forgive me if I move on, because you have made that point twice and very clearly. Pauline Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
Well it's not much good setting up procedures which you then seek to break and ignore. I mean these [CLAPPING]...

WOOLAS
Well knife crime has come down hasn't it.

NEVILLE-JONES
Yeah. These statistics were meant, according to Sir Michael Scholar, no reason - I think he's a very angry man, I don't know if you heard him on the radio this afternoon and he was very, very clear about his meaning and he said these figures are selective. What does selective mean? Well when you go into court you're asked to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth aren't you, well it may be the truth but it's very clear from the implication of selective that you haven't got the whole truth and you haven't got the whole picture. So what we don't know is what the negative bit of this story is because clearly what's happened is that the positive bit's been picked out. It destroys trust if you do this, Phil, this is the silly thing about it, is there may be an achievement in all of this but you've now managed to destroy the trust of the public ...

WOOLAS
Pauline, with respect, you're implying that it's deliberate, you don't know that ... [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER] ... with respect, with respect, with respect Pauline you don't know that.

NEVILLE-JONES
It's very, very clear it's deliberate and Sir Michael Scholar is very clear it's deliberate.

WOOLAS
No, no you don't know that and secondly, as I understand it, we're talking about the hospital admissions statistics, not the statistics from the police which have been issued properly and have not been challenged and it is the statistics on knife crime that we're talking about. So we can have a row about whether or not there was some insidious leaking or whatever ....

NELSON
By the Prime Minister.

WOOLAS
.... what is important is that we have these checks and balances, quite rightly if we make a mistake we're held to account but what is important Pauline is that knife crime is coming down and that is what your party doesn't want to debate.

DIMBLEBY
David Laws.

LAWS
I think there are two questions ....

NEVILLE-JONES
These are pilot studies.

LAWS
....there are two questions that Phil needs to give us the answer to. I mean firstly it was clear from what Sir Michael said today that he wasn't unhappy with the information being leaked after it was leaked that specific representations were made before the information was put out asking that it should not be put out. So I would like to know why that was ignored. And I would also like to know from Phil whether it was his own department, the Home Office, which took the decision to leak this or whether it was No 10 Downing Street and the Prime Minister.

DIMBLEBY
Two very simple questions: it is the case that he said on the radio that they had sought - sought reassurance that these figures when they heard they might be released they would not be released.

WOOLAS
Yeah I think that's fair, I think that's right, my understanding is, I think we're talking about the hospital admissions ....

DIMBLEBY
Leave aside which - because - leave aside which they were, the statistics of which he .... on the second question, let's come to the second question - you accept the first question - let's come to the second question minister - who made the decision to let this information into the public domain?

WOOLAS
I don't know, is the honest answer to that question.

DIMBLEBY
Should there be a leak inquiry then?

LAWS
Sounds like No 10 then.

NELSON
And we know who runs No 10 don't we.

LAWS
Send in the police quickly.

WOOLAS
With respect nobody - nobody is questioning, as far as I know, and let's have a real debate if this is the case - nobody's questioning the fact that the crime figures for knife attacks, for murder and GBH ....

DIMBLEBY
Well Sir Michael said they were selective so we don't know yet.

WOOLAS
No you are - you are being selective David, as - you are an opposition MP and you're very good at it, you do it in the chamber - you are selecting those group of statistics that are not [TALKING OVER]

DIMBLEBY
Hang on - hang on - although it engages very powerful emotions one at a time is a little bit better. Just briefly Pauline Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
I just want to say that as I understand it these figures relate to some pilot studies, these pilot studies concern ....

DIMBLEBY
Nine police areas.

NEVILLE-JONES
Nine police areas where special measures have been put in place. As a result of those special measures, if we are to believe those statistics because they are absolutely accurate, because of the special measures the figures of knife crime have come down, it does not follow from that that the figures of crime - knife crime - throughout the whole of the country have come down. It shows that if you take special measures you can bring the numbers down.

DIMBLEBY
Let's - let's ...

WOOLAS
Special measures that we put into place.

DIMBLEBY
Let's now just pause, let's just pause there. Margaret Henderson asked: are the statistics to be believed. The question of trust in statistics came up. Who in this audience here in this case believes the statistics are right and trust the publication of these statistics at this point? Would you put your hands up? Those who believe - those who believe, to the contrary, that they're not to be trusted would you put your hands up? In this congregation, that Phil Woolas is genial enough to smile about, not one hand went up in favour of the publication of the statistics, everyone in this congregation, audience, in this church does not trust the statistics.

NELSON
... actually do that formerly, if five out of six people don't believe statistics according to statistics.

DIMBLEBY
In any case, the statistics tell us.

NELSON
No, no five out of six believe they're politically spun, this was what Sir Michael Scholar was saying, this is a concern, because the public don't, like our audience here, believe what they hear because they thing politicians have tinkered with them.

DIMBLEBY
My cue to invite you, if you have thoughts about this or any of the other issues we're discussing, to ring Any Answers which is 03700 100 444 and the e-mail address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Swiftly to our next if we could.

FORBES
Roy Forbes. How fast should a postman walk? [LAUGHTER]

DIMBLEBY
Minister, are you across this?

WOOLAS
No.

DIMBLEBY
Do you - you haven't - while you've been dealing with other matters - well some of the panel are, so I'll come to you and you'll pick up on what it is, rather than me elaborating it. Fraser Nelson.

NELSON
I wish they'd walk a lot faster to my house, I wait in vain for them to come everyday. And the poor chap, when he comes, just can't stop to say hello because he's got to do 20 other houses as he keeps doing his four mile an hour sprint or something. And I don't know it seems quite often like the Royal Mail isn't a particularly well run organisation, I tried to go to the post box the other day and it was literally full of Christmas cards, I couldn't even squeeze mine in the top. So it wouldn't surprise me if they've been given instructions to walk like the Duracell bunnies up and down the high street. But I hope they can take it more leisurely, two miles an hour seems fair to me.

DIMBLEBY
Are you getting closer to the story Phil Woolas?

WOOLAS
Yes I'm thinking back to when I was a newsboy and I remembered that you walked a lot quicker at the end of the round than you did at the beginning because the Burnley Express was so heavy. I suspect, in my experience of time and motion studies, is that you can find statistics to prove anything. [LAUGHTER]

NELSON
Like knife crime eh.

DIMBLEBY
The underlying issue is that the Post Office union believes that its members are being bullied to walk at four miles an hour on their postal round. The Post - postal deliverers - I'm trying to not say postmen because there are post women as well - postmen and post women - say that it's not possible to do the speed they're being demanded but the Post Office, itself, said they aren't being demanded that speed but the Post Office won't say anything publicly, which makes it more complicated. Pauline Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
So do we have any facts? Another of these problems. I find the story very hard to disentangle. I mean I suspect there must be something to do with being required to deliver a certain number of letters in a certain area during a certain period of time, i.e. while you're being paid. And there's an argument about whether you're able to do it. And so the Post Office are saying well you walk a bit faster in order to do it. And if that's the story. I honestly don't know the - I don't know whether the postmen have got a point or the Post Office has got a point.

WOOLAS
Well it depends on the round doesn't it.

NEVILLE-JONES
All I do know is that the post arrives later and later as far as I'm concerned.

WOOLAS
It depends on the round doesn't it, if you do it in a hilly area of Saddleworth or a terraced row down in Oldham, it depends on the round how fast doesn't it.

DIMBLEBY
David Laws.

LAWS
I mean four miles an hour is okay I think if you're just strolling along but if you're carrying a very big bag and you're having to stop and you're hoping that when you ring the doorbell anyone might appear within the sort of reasonable period of time, I think it's probably unachievable. But I do suspect that occasionally postmen get their revenge. I remember my predecessor in Yeovil, Paddy Ashdown, once went out with the local postman for Christmas and promised to deliver some post with them and they gave him a very big sack and despite his Royal Marine past he struggled with it, until he finished the two hour round and discovered that what they'd done is put five bricks at the bottom of his bag. [LAUGHTER] So I think that with five bricks it would be a bit slower.

DIMBLEBY
Roy Forbes, you posed the question.

FORBES
Yes. Terms like greased lightening and the blue blur come to mind in that postmen don't hang about.

DIMBLEBY
Are you acquainted with the postal service directly?

FORBES
I am, I'm a postman.

DIMBLEBY
You are a postman?

FORBES
Yes.

[CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Had we known you could have answered the question first. What do you think is the sensible speed, if there is such a thing?

FORBES
There isn't such a thing as a sensible speed. All the colleagues that work with me - as I said they don't hang about. I mean you hardly see them they move so fast. We have - we have more work than we have time to do.

NEVILLE-JONES
Oh that's the key.

DIMBLEBY
Pauline Neville-Jones is saying that's the key, you've got ...

NEVILLE-JONES
I think that's the issue isn't it.

DIMBLEBY
Well at that point let me invite any other postmen to ring in to Any Answers to tell their stories 03700 100 444, indeed the Post Office if it's willing to break its vow of public silence on this, rather remarkably it's not said a thing, despite endless invitations to say something. So it leaves us somewhat in the dark. And perhaps they can do it by e-mail if they don't want to do it on the phone, the e-mail address is any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Our next.

MORRIS
Henry Morris. Given the Germans strong criticism of the PM has Super Gord really saved the world?

DIMBLEBY
[LAUGHTER AND CLAPPING] Fraser Nelson.

NELSON
No, Super Gord isn't quite - there's a great quote from Michael Gove in the House of Commons today where he says that Gordon thinks he's Roosevelt but in fact he's more of a Max Molsey in terms of that he's got all of this money, he's banding it about, but he's been given a good German spanking at the end of the day. This was in the House of Common it's under privilege. But I tell you Gordon Brown has absolutely been put to rights by the Germans. He's been going to these Euro summits for the last 10 years, they've been warning him about this debt, saying it's all going to end in tears, you know, and he's been saying oh no, I'm right, fiscal prudence etc., borrow, borrow, borrow. And of course it's gone pop just like they all said he was. There was a wonderful German word "schadenfreude", which I think they're feeling over there in Brussels right now because they all warned him that if he basically pumps the British economy full of dangerously under priced debt it will go pop. And I really do think that we're beginning to see that the world isn't rallying behind Gordon Brown at all.

DIMBLEBY
But he responds by saying look compare our debt with the debt of other nations and we have to spend in this way in order to stop the economy deflating.

NELSON
He does, he uses all sorts of tricks to massage down the debt - he doesn't count Northern Rock for example like he's supposed to. But in Britain you've got to remember that our households are the most indebted in the whole of the G7, no other industrialised country has had as much debt as the average British household does. Add that to the company debt and you've got a whole country which owes so much that international creditors wonder if they're ever going to see that money back. And that's why the pound is going the way of the Icelandic kroner right now because people are genuinely worried that Gordon Brown has borrowed so much and the solution borrow even more. It doesn't make sense to him. And the Germans are just saying the emperor's got no clothes and I think the British public will conclude the same on election day. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
David Laws.

LAWS
Yes I think it must be very upsetting to Gordon when he clearly thinks that he's saved the world economy and he's got these very ungrateful Germans making all these comments about it. At the moment I mean it's clear not only that he hasn't saved the world economy but that there is a serious question over what is going to happen to the UK economy, the statistics that we're getting out the whole time suggests the recession is deepening and I fear that the action that was taken a few months ago to try to stabilise the banking system may yet prove not to be enough. And it is that problem that we've got in the financial sector that is so exacerbating the situation in the rest of the economy. We've got an enormous debt bubble, particularly in the consumer sector, that was built up over the last 10 or 15 years, much of it on Gordon Brown's watch. And we've now got the explosion not only of that bubble of debt but also of the great claim that Gordon had and his predecessor in the last couple of parliaments that they had managed to end boom and bust.

DIMBLEBY
Do you - do you - are you with - you're critical - are you with the German finance minister, the German finance minister of what is the third largest economy in the world, describing the decisions as - in relation to VAT cuts and levels of borrowing - as crass and breathtaking?

LAWS
I think to make a serious point that the comments from the German finance minister are totally and utterly inappropriate and irresponsible at a time when the problems globally are so significant that all of these governments should be working together. But I do agree, and we have made this criticism, that the value added tax reduction was extraordinarily ill judged, particularly at a time when there is such widespread discounting and effectively is going to have very little impact on the UK economy. And if you want to deal with many of the problems we've got we ought to be using any extra money that's going in to deal with some of our long term problems, including in the housing sector, where we should be using the downturn to invest in ways that will be good for the long term, as well as to hold up the economy in the short term.

DIMBLEBY
Pauline Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
The first comments were made by Peer Steinbruck, who is a fellow socialist. And he made some pretty pointed comments that were quite right, they were to the point. And I think that the Germans have been pretty annoyed by the provocation that had come from this end. But put that on one side. Which countries run the best economy in Europe - Germany. And I think it's very hard to - what they're really saying is how is it that you climb out of a recession by spending even more and spending it on things like a tax cut. And where do we go and spend that tax cut? We'll go and spend that tax cut on things which actually we import from countries like Japan and China. How does it help our own economy? You've got to have some fiscal responsibility in all of this. We are heading, in this country, for a debt of one trillion pounds, that's our children who have to pay those higher taxes, these are huge sums of money that we are now loading on the backs of the next generation in order to have a pump up for the economy, presumably then to have an election. I think it's a disgraceful policy.

DIMBLEBY
You mean no pump up for the economy, let it go on down and the devil take the ...

NEVILLE-JONES
No but not that way, you must have some kind of fiscal responsibility in all of this. What we certainly need to do and the central thing - and here we do agree with the government - is that you do need to recapitalise the banks. But the banks have got to get the lending going and the problem for the banks at the moment is that the government is lending to them rather expensively and expecting them on to on lend at a cheaper rate. Well that won't work. You've got to actually carry through on that because the really key thing is to get the businesses of this country working, get the lending and the supply chain working again so that actually the businesses of this country will keep people in employment. That's what we need is to keep the jobs. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Minister.

WOOLAS
Thank you. Well let's start with where we agree with what Pauline has said on the last point. Clearly the government's efforts have been focused on ensuring the banking system not only has the liquidity and capital it needs but that that money is put into those entrepreneurs and commerce and business that are making things and are able to sell things. And the velocity of money within the economy through that banking system is absolutely critical and I certainly agree with that point and I think the government should rightly get some praise in the long term for that. I think the debate about the German minister is misconceived, it's based on the assumption that the Germans don't have their own fiscal stimulus, they do, it's not as big as this country and other countries at the moment but I think you should look at the European summit that's taking place today ...

NELSON
They balanced their budget, we didn't, that's a huge difference between us and the rest of the world.

WOOLAS
Well before - before - before - let me just come on to the - do the positives first. Clearly the SPD minister has made his comments, if you read the full interview - and I always advise commentators to read the full interview, not just the sound bite that is presented to you - because what you find is analysis of a federalist. Clearly this is in part about Germany's position in the European Union and it is accepted in this country, I think generally, and around Europe and indeed around the world that the United Kingdom and Gordon Brown, in particular, have been providing that leadership role. On the points about VAT that have been made. Well there's no point sniggering about that, that is just the simple fact, anybody who reads a foreign newspaper will tell you that.

NELSON
It's a lesson in what not to do, that's what we've given the rest of the world.

WOOLAS
Well let me - let me tell what we shouldn't do, which is the policy that you advocate in your politics [indistinct word]. But before I do that let me pick on this point about VAT...

DIMBLEBY
No, no let's move to that because of pressures of time.

WOOLAS
Okay just very quickly on VAT. Of course in and of itself it's not going to solve the problem but the debate is taking place as if that was the only thing that has been done, it is clearly not. But there is an alternative strategy and that is the 1981 budget, that is the monetarist budget where one said let's not have a stimulus, let's not put money into our economy, let's allow it to shrink, let's allow public expenditure to be cut. I remember the 1981 budget very well. That is what would happen now if we listened to those advocates who are criticising the government's action. So of course fiscal stimulus is important but not doing anything, allowing our businesses and our people to sit idle and building up huge debts, as happened under the monetarist policy, that is the alternative. In this way we can make things and with the value of the pound as it is our exporters stand a better chance. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what is happened.

DIMBLEBY
Minister, why is the pound falling at this record rate - 25% fall - at a dramatic rate in relation to the euro, except and unless it is because international investors have no faith in the British economy?

WOOLAS
Because interest rates have come down. And if you talk to businesses who export you will find that that side of the equation is welcome. That side of the equation, ladies and gentlemen, [drop out] .... the headlines but we have not just to - we are not spending our way out of this, we are manufacturing, making [drop out] out of this situation.

DIMBLEBY
So the lower the pound does the better?

WOOLAS
Well of course one wants stability and of course there are limits to this but you can't have your cake and eat it in economics. We have to have - the banking system - I agree with Pauline again - stimulating the velocity of money into the economy but it is our manufacturers and our service and commerce industries that we must focus on, that is what will help us.

DIMBLEBY
David Laws.

LAWS
There is unfortunately still a huge amount of complacency in the government about the depth of the problems that we face. The - Phil is right that the government deserves some credit for stopping the UK and some of the other international banks from imploding a few months ago. But where he is wrong is to imply that the action they've taken so far in saving the banks is saving the businesses because what all of us are seeing out in our constituencies at the moment is that the banks are able to remain in business but they are not doing business, they are pulling in their credit lines, they are increasing the interest rates to businesses, they are - in my constituency - closing down the lines of credit to many quite credit worthy businesses. And they are so badly battered that they are simply trying to survive themselves and they're choking off credit to the economy. If we don't address that this recession's going to go on for a very long period of time.

WOOLAS
That is the point - that is the thrust of what I was saying - it is that ...

LAWS
But that is what you've failed to do so far.

WOOLAS
... well that is what we're working urgently and need support to do but it is that that the opposition - the official opposition David in the Conservative Party - are opposing.

DIMBLEBY
Let me bring our questioner - Henry Morris - what do you think about Super Gord?

MORRIS
I don't think he has saved the world, I think he's forced future generations into massive amounts of debt...

DIMBLEBY
You speak clearly, I mean you're wearing a school jacket which suggests you may not be a pupil of the school but just wearing the jacket, but it suggests that you have in mind your own likely prospects in this respect.

MORRIS
Yes, I would like to be an MP. [LAUGHTER]

DIMBLEBY
Oh really!

WOOLAS
We thought you were worried about having to pay all that debt back for many years to come actually.

NELSON
This is the worst thing about the government's policy. It's sadly Henry and people like his generation with billions upon billions of debt and it's not just an economic failure Phil, it's a moral one too.

DIMBLEBY
Let me - let me just simply ask - let me ask - let me ask....

WOOLAS
This is scare mongering Jonathan, this is scare mongering ...

NELSON
Your projections say our national debt is going to double, who's going to pay that off? That guy in front of you who's probably about 17 years old he is going to ....

WOOLAS
Fraser you are too young to remember the 1981 budget, I remember it very well and that budget plunged our economy into huge debt. The levels of debt if this country are not as you are portraying them and they compare well - they compare well with other [TALKING OVER]...

DIMBLEBY
Okay pause - pause - pause - pause ....

WOOLAS
... G7 countries.

DIMBLEBY
They're not - Fraser Nelson has told that they are not as he portrays the debt, that it's nothing like the debt in 1981, quick response Fraser Nelson and then I'll go on to ask a simple question of Henry Morris.

NELSON
In today's terms Churchill had to borrow £60 million from America after the war, it took 50 years, 60 years to pay back. We're about to borrow £500 billion and generations are going to be paying that for decades and decades and it's completely irresponsible.

WOOLAS
And the percentage of debt now compared to the Conservative government? [CLAPPING]

NELSON
It's higher Phil, it's 44.4%.

WOOLAS
The percentage of debt now compared to what we inherited?

NELSON
All national debt - the gross debt of this country is 400% of our GDP.

WOOLAS
Don't select statistics Fraser, use the ...[AUDIENCE NOISE]

DIMBLEBY
Let me - I just want - I want - I want - I want - I want to find out because he posed the question and he talked about future generations as well as wanting to be an MP, how old are you Henry Morris?

MORRIS
Sixteen.

DIMBLEBY
Sixteen.

NELSON
I was close.

DIMBLEBY
We'll leave that there thank you and go to our next question.

THOMPSON
Keith Thompson. Does the panel think that there will ever be a cap or a limit to immigration especially as there is a desperate employment problem?

DIMBLEBY
Baroness Neville-Jones.

NEVILLE-JONES
There needs to be and when there's a Conservative government there will be. And we are going to have a point system but we do think there needs to be a cap. And the argument the government's used you know is that on the whole immigration's been good for us, it's created employment, the economy has expanded but actually the recent work done shows that roughly 80% of the jobs that have been created actually went to immigrants, that's to say a lot of them temporary, a lot of them go again but nevertheless they were not created for people in this country. And what we do want to see, obviously, is an expansion of the economy but actually one which takes up the labour force of the country first. And so I think that. And we need to create the skills base to enable people actually to take those jobs ...

DIMBLEBY
When you say there should be a cap, a cap has to be a number, it has to be a level, where is the cap?

NEVILLE-JONES
Well I mean the cap will have to be determined in the light of the circumstances ...

DIMBLEBY
Yeah but where would - in the light of circumstances means that it's an entirely moveable cap.

NEVILLE-JONES
Well no, no, I mean you can set ....

DIMBLEBY
Do you have a figure about this country's - the cap for this country?

NEVILLE-JONES
You don't have to have a single limit for all times. What you need to do is look at the economic situation, the capacity of the social services and everything else actually to take the burden of extra immigrants coming in, the economic needs, what business actually needs and you set - you will set a limit for a period.

DIMBLEBY
So it varies?

NEVILLE-JONES
Yes it will, I should think it will be a variable figure ...

DIMBLEBY
So people should know when you say there should be a cap it is a figure that it can up and down as and when depending on the circumstances?

NEVILLE-JONES
You are in control - you are in control at any one time of the number of people you're taking into the country. And that's what you really need to be able to do.

DIMBLEBY
It's slightly misleading to call that - it's slightly misleading to call that a cap isn't it?

NEVILLE-JONES
No I don't think so frankly. What you're saying is are you willing - this is a governmental act - are you willing to set a limit? The answer is you are willing to set a limit. Yes is the answer to the question, you should be willing and should be able to set a limit and we should set a limit.

DIMBLEBY
Minister - minister, you've addressed this issue on numerous occasions. Is there - is there a cap?

WOOLAS
Well let's be clear what the question is. The population projections that say on current levels that the population of this country will go up to 70 million, those projections I believe will not come true as a result of government policies, the introduction of the points based system does allow that control through the raising and the lowering of the criteria of entry for economic migrants coming into this country from outside the European Union. We are able to address that. On the specific of whether or not there should be a numerical cap on economic migrancy - my understanding of the Conservative policy is that they don't go, Pauline, for a specific figure and that they support the points based system that we have introduced and as I say that allows us to control the numbers and to bring them down in light of the circumstances of skills and the economy quite rightly. But that doesn't mean, in answer to the gentleman's question, that there would be a specific number on that - on that system.

DIMBLEBY
Given that do you still stand by what you said that this government isn't going to allow the population to go up to 70 million ...

WOOLAS
Yes that's right.

DIMBLEBY
Isn't going to allow the population to go up?

WOOLAS
I certainly do stand by that and it's because we've introduced the points based system and other measures that are coming - that are already in place and are coming in that we can with confidence say that.

DIMBLEBY
So there will be - let's be absolutely clear because there's been some confusion - there will be no circumstances under which the government would allow the population to rise above 70 million, that 70 million, in ordinary terms then, is the cap?

WOOLAS
Well that's population Jonathan. The question that the gentleman asked was about immigration I think wasn't it?

DIMBLEBY
Yeah, yes.

WOOLAS
You see the question that people ask, quite rightly, and I understand I think as well as anyone the importance of this question to our country, we have to recognise that within those figures there are people who come - such as students and as temporary workers - who make up the population statistics. And again the points based system allows us to address that point. So I can give the reassurances that the gentleman is looking for.

DIMBLEBY
Fraser Nelson.

NELSON
The population's due to be above 70 million by 2028 by which time I kind of hope Labour might have lost an election or two, so perhaps Phil won't be around to implement this. But the fact is the politicians talk about - they ignore the basic facts - we don't control our borders within the European Union, there's nothing we can do to stop Poles and people from Hungary and Romania for coming here. Now they of course are only a quarter of immigrants, we can do stuff for the other three quarters. But you've got to ask why immigrants have come to this country in such huge numbers in the last 10 years. My personal opinion is that because we have paid our own people to do nothing for so long. There have been five million people on benefits. Four out of five new jobs created in the last 10 years have gone to or have been created by immigrants. If we could just come up with an economy whereby new jobs we actually encourage our own people on benefits to take them then there would not be this vacuum that sucks in people from all around the planet. It's very difficult, as the Americans show, to put any kind of cap on immigration, even more so if you don't control your borders like we don't.

DIMBLEBY
David Laws.

LAWS
A cap to me implies some sort of numerical limit and I think it's pie in the sky to think we're ever going to have that for population - how do you have a cap on population, are you going to stop people from having children or something? A cap on ...

DIMBLEBY
So saying that you will not allow the population to rise beyond 70 million ...

LAWS
How do you make that guarantee, are you going to stop people out there from having children or something, I mean it's absolute nonsense.

NEVILLE-JONES
I think our demographic trend's going there anyway.

LAWS
I mean if you - if you'd ask people 50 years ago, 60 years ago, what sort of population we would have had now, if we had 10 or 20 million, they would have been gob smacked that we'd have 50 or 55 million. And a cap on immigration, I don't think it's workable. The two things we should do are firstly make sure at a time when unemployment may be rising that we control the skills that people have coming into the country and the second thing is actually make the existing system work. Ever since the Tories abolished the exit checks we haven't in this country even had a clue how many illegal immigrants there were. Until we sort out those problems these other issues are just pie in the sky.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. And I can squeeze in one more.

DACE
Nigel Dace. Do the members of the panel have a particular fond memory of shopping in Woolworths?

DIMBLEBY
Have you ever shopped in Woolworths Pauline?

NEVILLE-JONES
Not recently I confess but I have, yeah.

DIMBLEBY
A fond memory?

NEVILLE-JONES
In my early childhood yes, it was a great place, hasn't been so great recently I fear.

DIMBLEBY
Fraser Nelson.

NELSON
I loved it, in the highland village where I grew up it was the coolest shop in the whole town, I tell you, and I rifled through their bins trying to find 10p singles and red plugs, I loved doing that especially, I don't know why but there was not much to do in the highlands.

DIMBLEBY
David Laws.

LAWS
Yeah I fear quite a lot of liquorice catherine wheels were consumed from Woolworths in the town I lived in when I was young. More recently not so much but obviously I think all of us feel tremendously for all those Woolworths workers, very concerned about their jobs now and hope that somebody else is going to take over this network of shops pretty soon.

DIMBLEBY
And Phil Woolas.

NEVILLE-JONES
It affects 25,000 people, jobs depend on Woolies.

WOOLAS
It's a very serious point isn't it, on the number of jobs. But it holds a place in the nation's heart doesn't it. The short answer Jonathan - midget gems.

LAWS
We've never heard of them.

DIMBLEBY
And anyone who doesn't know what a midget gem is can ring in to Any Answers - 03700 100 444 - and tell us what they would like it to be.

That brings us to the end of this week's programme. Next week we're going to be in Horncastle in Lincolnshire with Joan Bakewell who is now the government's voice of older people as well as being a distinguished broadcaster; the director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti; Peter Oborne a columnist on the Daily Mail and the businessman Sir Ghulam Noon. Hope you can join us there. For now from the Friends of St John's and their parish church, goodbye. [CLAPPING]
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