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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions? 23 January 2009

CHAIRMAN: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY

PANELLISTS:

BEN BRADSHAW MP: Minister of State for Health

ANDREW LANSLEY MP: Shadow Health Secretary


DON FOSTER MP: Liberal Democrat spokesman on Culture, Media and Sport

Dame SUZI LEATHER: Chair of Charity Commission

From St Martin & St Mary, Chudleigh (Chudleigh Parish Church), Fore Street, Chudleigh, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ13 0HX.


DIMBLEBY:
Welcome to Chudleigh which is a small town in South Devon between Exeter and Newton Abbot. With its narrow lanes and small passageways Chudleigh is very much Devon. It is also close to Dartmoor and the sea and Chudleigh rocks which are made of limestone and one of which is called the Pope’s Head which is supposed to grant your wish if you stick a pin in it and it doesn’t fall out which doesn’t sound like very good odds. Anyway Chudleigh is celebrating the 700th anniversary of the date when Edward II granted the town its Market Charter and the 750th Anniversary of the dedication of Chudleigh Parish Church and we are here in the church which is a wonderful church as the guests of the church and of the town’s history group. On our panel Ben Bradshaw is the Minister of State for Health, Andrew Lansley is the Shadow Health Secretary, Don Foster speaks for the Liberal Democrats on Culture Media and Sport. Dame Suzi Leather spent most of her professional life in the consumer movement in this country and abroad and so far she has held no less than 30 public appointments. A former volunteer with Age Concern she has Chaired the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority and she is now Chair of the Charity Commission. She is also the fourth member of our panel. (APPLAUSE)

Our first question please.

TIM STEINER
Can we bank on Britain?

DIMBLEBY
Among other things I suspect this derives from the American investment guru who on Tuesday said I would urge you to sell any sterling you might have. It is finished. I hate to say it but I would not put any money into the United Kingdom. Andrew Lansley can we bank on Britain?

ANDREW LANSLEY
Well I think we can and I think the world should because I rather share the view that I think Barack Obama on Tuesday expressed about America. We are still capable of making things, we are still capable of being competitive, we are still capable of using science and technology to deliver some of the leading innovation in the world. We are still capable of all these things. The issue of course is how do we get back to a world where the people who are making things and providing services and delivering that kind of science and technology in Britain feel that there is a product, there is a market for their products and services. That is what we have to get back to and we have to have an economy which is capable of supporting the wealth creating sectors of this country and our public services and that is where the risks lie.

DIMBLEBY:
It doesn’t help much does it if your leader warns that the Government might end up going to DIMF on bended knee to bale the country out.

ANDREW LANSLEY
That is precisely my point. That is indeed where the risks lie. The risks like in our having a response to a global recession which was not only well prepared for a recession because we had a Chancellor and then Prime Minister who shared the view of many people in the city that the world would keep on going and there would never be a bust and indeed he, one could say he rather encouraged that and also a Government which didn’t prepare for the bad times which didn’t literally fix the roof when the sun was shining. We have gone into a recession starting with a high level of annual debt and adding to it enormously and with a government that seems to feel that the response to a crisis which has resulted from an enormous amount of debt is that the government should take on not only a vast amount of debt like other countries but more than other countries and in ways that appear calculated to do harm in the long term to our prospects of recovery

DIMBLEBY:
Don Foster

DON FOSTER
I certainly have confidence in this country and I am confident we are going to come out of the recession but I would be much happier if we had a government in charge of dealing with these issues that first of all had identified the problems much earlier on. The Liberal Democrats who 3 years ago were pointing to the really worrying situation of the housing boom, of the growing personal credit crisis and so on so the Government were very slow to act and then having more recently acted they have done so in a way that has led to a great deal of confusion. That first £37 billion that were given to the banks to bale them out. The banks were told on the one hand you have to use this money to build up your reserves and on the other they were told you have to spend it to extend lending to particularly small businesses so there were confusing messages and then more recently we have had a government that was taking very risky measures; For example the proposal to insure bad loans by the banks is one where they have no indication whatsoever how much that is going to cost and that leads to real problems in security in the systems. So if we are going to now succeed and have confidence in the country we have to have a government that gives us greater confidence that it knows what it is doing. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Suzi Leather

SUZI LEATHER
Is Britain finished? No Britain will never be finished but clearly we are hurting very much and ordinary consumers, people on low incomes, people who have recently lost their jobs are hurting very much. Many of the charities that support those people are also themselves struggling, the research done by the Charity Commission published towards the end of last year said that 1 in 4 charities had seen a drop in donations and of those charities 1 in 12 had already laid people off. On the other side 1 in 5 charities have seen an increase in demand on their services so that is particularly citizen advice bureaus, charities which help people with debt and housing problems and so on so we are more dependent than we ever have been I think on those charities. But you know clearly more people are going to lose their jobs and we will see a further drop in property prices. My sense is that the government is doing the right thing, so it needs a steady nerve and I am encouraged by the fact that so many other countries are pursuing the same policies as this government but it is not easy times.
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Ben Bradshaw?

BEN BRADSHAW
Well we are in a very painful recession officially confirmed today along with every other leading economy in the world. I think Suzi has very vividly outlined the terrible impact that is having on individuals on organisations on families, on businesses. I don’t accept Don’s point that we were slow to act. We were the first country to recapitalize our banks and whatever you think of Gordon Brown I think he has been widely acknowledged amongst world leaders to have come to the problems and the solutions more quickly. We were the first country to announce an economic stimulus contrary to what the Conservatives said before Christmas, Germany has now followed with the biggest stimulus since the Second World War. Barack Obama has announced an 8% GDP economic stimulus and Andrew is not right about this issue of debt which David Cameron keeps going on about. Historic debt in this country is the second lowest of any of the 8 leading industrial nations. Only Canada has a higher proportion of debt to GDP so it is sensible to borrow and spend and invest. The very worse thing to do now at this stage in recession is to cut spending.

DIMBLEBY:
Just on that one point can I check that with Andrew Lansley, this question about historic debt and what it is likely to go to. Is it really so outlandish that it makes it unwise to borrow more?

ANDREW LANSLEY
Well we know that the government is intending to double the national debt over the next 5 years. We know that in fact.

DIMBLEBY:
The point that the Minister is making is the level of debt compared with other countries is actually not as high as

ANDREW LANSLEY
Well there is a comparison in terms of historic debt and there is a comparison in terms of annual

BEN BRADSHAW
And it is low on both accounts

ANDREW LANSLEY
Our annual deficit is amongst the highest amongst the developed countries and the point is that it is rising rapidly. The issue at the moment is not about how much historic debt. What is critical is the question of how much money is the British Government needing to borrow in international markets and when you come back to the question which was asked right at the outset. Are people going to bank on Britain? The issue of course is people going to lend to Britain? They will lend to America because the dollar is a reserve currency

DIMBLEBY:
And if they don’t lend to Britain….

ANDREW LANSLEY
In China, in Japan, in India in most continental European countries they have a high level of domestic saving.

DIMBLEBY:
And just to be clear….


ANDREW LANSLEY
…no domestic savings, we have been borrowing from the rest of the world. We have assets abroad but frankly if we spend more than we earn on the scale that the government is intending to do over the next few years the rest of the world will begin to say why should we lend that money.

DIMBLEBY:
Andrew sorry to keep interrupting. It is really clarification. These are really complicated matters. Are you saying that if the rest of the world. The investors in the rest of the world don’t borrow, don’t like the look of government bonds unless the interest paid on these is astronomical and I don’t believe it will actually be delivered is that the point that you are saying the government will be forced to go to the IMF or that your leader is saying that happens

ANDREW LANSLEY
Well the point that David Cameron was making was that the risks that the Government will borrow to an extent that it is incapable of being financed in the markets in the normal way and frankly the Governor of the Bank of England himself said over the last two decades in this country we have seen our overall levels of debt and deficit rise unsustainably.

DIMBLEBY:
A re you as it were Minister, is the Government banking on the fact that international investors will continue to invest in Britain.

BEN BRADSHAW
That is part of the picture

DIMBLEBY:
Is it a fundamental part of the picture?

BEN BRADSHAW
Of course and there is no sign of that not happening now. Look our debt as a proportion of our GDP is 48%, Germany 56%

DIMBLEBY:
Rising 58%,

BEN BRADSHAW
Yes going up, going up.

DIMBLEBY:
Isn’t it important to know where we are going to?

BEN BRADSHAW
Absolutely

DIMBLEBY:
You say 48% we are going up to 58%

BEN BRADSHAW
Like every other country we are increasing borrowing. The only organisation in the world at the moment that is advocating cutting spending, cutting borrowing is the British conservative party. That will be the very worse thing to do at this point in recession
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
I am going to bring in our questioner and then … Tim Steiner?

TIM STEINER
Well there are two parts to my question. I mentioned banks and Britain, it has worried me greatly the level of borrowing that we have had throughout this government and I don’t think that fares well for Britain. I also think it is appalling the way that the banks have been run chasing vast profits which you know have now been proven to be (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
You were interrupted by applause before you finished but I think had you made your point?

TIM STEINER
I will accept the applause. (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY:
Don Foster quick word and then we are going to move on

DON FOSTER
I am delighted that at long last somebody has raised the issue of the anger that we all feel at the way the banks have behaved. If we are going to get the foreign investors coming back to this country, because they are leaving in droves at the moment then we have actually got to have greater security about our banks which is why we have advocated that some of the least well performing banks have to be nationalized but we have also got to take action that prevents the ludicrous things that we have seen happening like the Northern Rock employees getting £9 million bonuses for simply doing their job when they are part of the system that so badly let us down. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
And that happened Minister with the government in control of Northern Rock

BEN BRADSHAW
Well at arms length it was part of the deal when we nationalized Northern Rock


DIMBLEBY:
Did you say you can do what you like we are nationalizing you but if you want to pay yourself big bonuses feel free.

BEN BRADSHAW
Jonathan the reason that the rank and file workers at Northern Rock are receiving these bonuses is because they have repaid £3 billion more than they were expected to by this stage. More than half of the money that the tax payer invested and this is money coming back to the taxpayer don’t forget.

DIMBLEBY:
This is the same old business, these bonuses. People will say listening to that surely why should they get bonuses for doing what, they got into a terrible mess, they have managed to sort it out with a huge public bale out and now they are going to get a bonus for doing what they ought to be doing.

BEN BRADSHAW
The previous management who are no longer there got Northern Rock into a mess, the ordinary workers at Northern Rock who are now depleted in number have done a very good job at repaying the taxpayers investment much more quickly than the conservatives predicted who of course opposed the nationalization in the first place.

DIMBLEBY:
… sanction the bonuses

BEN BRADSHAW
It is not up to Gordon Brown to micro manage

DIMBLEBY:
Did he have to sanction the bonuses?

BEN BRADSHAW
I very much hope not.

DON FOSTER
Well surely one of the interesting points is that we see here the real problem of lack of clarity what is happening. These people apparently got their bonuses because they repaid money back to the government more quickly in passing repossessing a very large number of homes but what the government has now done is actually said to Northern Rock actually slow down the rate at which you are paying us because we actually want that money to be out in the economy. And that is an example of the lack of clarity and lack of thought of this government (APPLAUSE)


DIMBLEBY:
We will unquestionably return to these issues again but for now just to remind you of the Any Answers number first 03700 100 444 that is after the Saturday broadcast of AnyQuestions and the email address is any.answers@bbc.co.uk. But we will go to our next.


ANNETTE CLAPTON
Was the BBC right to deny an appeal for humanitarian aid for Gaza to be given air time?

DIMBLEBY:
This was the disasters emergency committee which habitually has appealed when all the agencies get together for humanitarian catastrophes of one kind or another. The BBC decided not to allow that appeal and the other broadcasters went along with that or together decided that. Suzi? Suzi Leather

SUZI LEATHER
1300 Palestinians have been killed. A third of them children, 5 and a half thousand have been injured and there are 50,000 homeless people and we have seen the devastation on our television in the last few weeks. I think it is hard to imagine greater humanitarian than currently exists in Gaza and I was absolutely appalled that the BBC have taken this decision and (APPLAUSE) I would plead with them to rethink this because it is absolutely clear that the message that there is a DEC Appeal now has reached far fewer people than would have been reached if the BBC had taken a different decision

DIMBLEBY:
The BBC gives two reasons apparently. One is it appears to have doubts about the delivery of aid in what the BBC describes as a volatile situation and the other is they feel there would be concerns about impartiality in what is an ongoing news story.

SUZI LEATHER
I think the scale of humanitarian need simply transcends the issue of impartiality. (HEAR HEAR APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Don Foster

DON FOSTER
I entirely agree with Suzi Leather. I mean it was a disgraceful decision by the BBC. As you rightly say two reasons were given. First of all they had concern about the aid getting through. Well frankly who is it to decide these issues? The 12 leading charities have come together to form this organisation. For 46 years they have been getting these sorts of broadcasts and suddenly the BBC thinks it knows better than these leading charities about whether or not aid can get through. That is an nonsense. And secondly to suggest that in any way it is going to compromise editorial independence is equally a complete nonsense and as Suzi has said not only have we seen the number of people dead the number of people injured, 50,000 people homeless there are actually 400,000 people who are without water at this present time. Aid is desperately needed. And a final point. the BBC has also claimed that it was because all of the broadcasters made this decision together but in fact according to the newspaper reports BSkyB for example has catergorically denied that that was the case so I don’t think even on that grounds it stacks up it was a disgraceful decision, it should be reversed immediately. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Minister

BEN BRADSHAW
I absolutely agree with what both Suzi and Don has said. I think this was an inexplicable decision. This is a humanitarian catastrophe and I am afraid the reasons given by the BBC are completely feeble. Firstly the one about delivery. The British Government is giving £25 million to Gazan relief. We don’t have a problem getting it in, there is no reason whey there should be any problem getting the relief in. Secondly this nervousness about being biased. I am afraid the BBC has to stand up to the Israeli authorities occasionally. Israel has a long reputation of bullying the BBC (APPLAUSE) and as a former BBC Correspondent myself I think the BBC’s coverage of the Middle East and most World Affairs is absolutely impeccable. The BBC is perfectly capable of standing up to accusations of bias and that should be completely disassociated from the very vital task of relief.

DIMBLEBY:
Do you believe from what you said it could be inferred that the Israelis have put pressure on the BBC rather than the BBC independently making a decision?

BEN BRADSHAW
I am not suggesting they have over this particular decision but all I am saying is that I know as a former BBC person myself who has worked in the Middle East the pressure that BBC correspondents come under the fact that BBC Correspondents are not allowed into Gaza to cover the conflict there is completely an unacceptable decision in terms of international journalistic and democratic law so I am afraid the BBC has been cowed by this relentless and persistent pressure from the Israeli Government and they should stand up against it. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Andrew Lansley

ANDREW LANSLEY
Well the BBC are a public service broadcaster and they should listen to the views of the public when they exercise their responsibilities and it seems to me that we agree on the Panel and I think our audience here this evening is telling us the public have a strong view that they want to have the opportunity to respond to the Disasters Emergency Committee and make their own decisions about whether they should provide charitable support and frankly I think Ben is suggesting that the BBC are being that somehow they are running shy of Israeli pressure. I don’t actually think the BBC would do that. I think they are running shy of getting into an argument. Well the only argument I think they could reasonably deploy is that they should look at the nature of the disasters emergency committee advert and make sure that it makes no claims that would prejudice a debate about what has happened in Gaza. But it is undeniable that there are hundreds of thousands of innocent people who are in need and that is all we are talking about, helping people who are in need. (APPLAUSE)
DIMBLEBY:
Can I ask the very large audience here which is well over 300 maybe 400 people who thinks the BBC has made in this case the right decision? Would anyone put up their hand who takes that view? One hand has gone up. Who is against the BBC’s decision and thinks the BBC was wrong? Everyone else I can see who is here. The BBC so far for one reason or another has not had a spokesperson available to answer questions about this but I can remind anyone in the BBC who is responsible for this decision that they can ring Any Answers? 03700, if you are listening, 100 44 the email address any.answers@ bbc.co.uk. We will go to our next.


JOHN NEWMAN
In view of the changes in policy of the new American administration would the panel agree that our unstinting support of President Bush over the last 8 years has been somewhat misplaced?

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
You have been in the government for almost all that 8 years if not all of it Ben Bradshaw

BEN BRADSHAW
I wouldn’t describe our very public and real differences with Bush over climate change or Guantanamo Bay as unstinting support. The reality I think I hope you would accept if you are in Government you have to work with whoever the President of the United States is or any other democratically elected leader however much you have in common with them or not and it is always a real dilemma I think for those in Government who may disagree fundamentally as I do with many of the things that George Bush stood for as to how you actually try to prevent him from doing things that are even worse and it might make us feel better sometimes to stand up and criticize him publicly and grandstand on something but that might not be the most effective way of influencing American policy. I am very very relieved, I mean George Bush’s greatest legacy as far as I am concerned is making Barack Obama possible and (APPLAUSE) I am now very relieved to have a Democrat particularly Barack Obama in the White House not least to return to the last question because he seems to be serious about addressing the Middle East problem right from the start of his presidency and I think the appointment of George Mitchell has been an absolutely brilliant, the best thing that has happened in terms of the Middle East peace process for many years.
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
For those who aren’t familiar with George Mitchell he was the man who initiated the process which led to the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.

BEN BRADSHAW
His help was invaluable in helping in helping Tony Blair achieve the Northern Ireland peace but he was also involved under Bill Clinton in the Middle East as well

DIMBLEBY:
Suzi Leather


SUZI LEATHER
I think the question implies that Obama will want to punish us in some sense and I think the one thing that is clear about him already is that he is not the kind of man to take action like that. I think he is quite an extraordinary exceptional person and I think that the speech he gave on Tuesday very cleverly lifted the whole of the American people beyond the sort of them and us, the bipartisan debate and tried to forge a new alliance about rebuilding America and I thought he did it extraordinarily successfully. So I don’t think it will do us down but I think that if we are looking for a way to immediately help America we can do no better thing than to relieve Guantanamo Bay of some of its 240 prisoners. It has been the most appalling human rights abuse he is absolutely right to be wanting to end it. Let’s offer to give him some help.
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Don Foster

DON FOSTER
I think we have got a world crisis at the moment so Barack Obama is going to be looking for allies all the way round the world and I don’t think he is going to punish us for the relationship that we had with George Bush although I fundamentally think that that relationship was a very bad one. I mean when you think about it this is a guy George Bush who didn’t agree with us on climate change, certainly wanted to go to war in Iraq which I fundamentally opposed, doesn’t believe as Obama does that there should be tax cuts now for the low and middle income people. He introduced Guantanamo and he failed to engage in the Middle East so the huge differences between the two are just staggering and as Suzi has rightly said everything we can do to help him in achieving the rapid closure of Guantanamo to work with him on issues of climate change, to work with him on trying to find a way forward in the Middle East is absolutely critical and I hope we will work with him and that he will get the support that he deserves and I just end by saying wasn’t it fantastic and it is the best thing that has happened this year so far.
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Andrew Lansley

ANDREW LANSLEY
Yes I think the answer to the question is that whether it was President Bush or indeed now President Obama Britain has very close relationship with America they are our principal allies and we should be very good friends with America and what that means I think as David Cameron said when he was in America last year is not about unthinking and unstinting support it is actually like any good friends in any relationship being prepared to be critical when that is demanded. Now happily I think there are changes in policy which from our point of view will make it easy to be good friends not least because I think President Obama in his speech didn’t assume leadership of the free world he said he is going to earn the leadership of the free world and I think that is very important. I think George Bush assumed far too much. I think we have moved from a world of threats and power to a world of hope and responsibility and that is a very important thing to do.

DIMBLEBY:
Given what you say about the importance of the relationship and in the context of John Newman’s question do you believe that the Labour Government in supporting the Minister says not unstintingly supporting the Bush Administration which everyone is now castigating relatively in relation to the new administration that the Labour government did what is necessary in international affairs or did they get it not quite right.

ANDREW LANSLEY
No I think they didn’t get it right and you know my personal view. I didn’t vote for the invasion of Iraq and I think the government were unthinking supporters of the American government at that time and should have been more skeptical of the path that was being pursued by the American Government at that time. And can I just make one more point and I think one of the things that does make a big difference and again illustrates where our government have not been sufficiently critical of the Bush Administration’s approach and is has changed is when President Obama said he would not compromise his ideals for security and we in this country we actually I would say in Parliament we in the Liberal Democrats have consistently argued that we should not sacrifice our freedoms and our ideals that that is actually what we are fighting for in this struggle.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
I will go back to our questioner on that if we could please

JOHN NEWMAN
Yes it is clear to many people what George Bush stood for both in terms of foreign policy particularly in the Middle East and also in terms of his internal economic policy the effect of which has impacted on all of us and I don’t think that our government despite the many many good things it has done over the last 10 years, it didn’t do enough to stand up to somebody who we could see was doing all of these things and sadly I think Tony Blair and possibly Gordon Brown’s legacy if you like will be affected by the fact that they did not stand up to George Bush and it is great that Obama has come in and it has given us a real positive feeling but we didn’t do enough and I think that is a real pity

BEN BRADSHAW
I don’t think

DIMBLEBY:
Ben Bradshaw very briefly


BEN BRADSHAW
Just very very quickly I think what matters is the values you share and I think the values that he has are the ones that we share very closely but secondly don’t under estimate how much standing up went on in private. I mean I am afraid that is how government works.

DIMBLEBY:
Can you identify one policy that Bush went with that was modified as a consequence of the British Government stance?

BEN BRADSHAW
Africa.

DIMBLEBY:
We determined…

BEN BRADSHAW
No, no, no you said influenced Jonathan and if you are asking me a question well I can think of others but I am giving you one example of an area where Bush was not completely not focused on Africa when he was first elected. Because of the work that Tony Blair did and the work that we did leading the European Union on the aid for Africa actually George Bush’s record in Africa, Don is nodding in assent, is not a bad one.

DIMBLEBY:
OK we will go to our next question please.


JULIE CHALLONER
After 11 years of promising the eradication of mixed wards who is to blame for the failure to reach 100 % compliance. The NHS or the Labour government?

DIMBLEBY:
There has been a memo that has been leaked which suggests that the Health Secretary is “rattled” it was written by one of the people at the meeting about the failure to reach that 100% compliance. Who is to be blamed if anyone Don Foster?

DON FOSTER
The government probably are to be blamed for actually setting a target which was impossible to achieve in the timescale that they proposed and we note that they changed the definition of the target from getting rid of mixed wards to mixed accommodation as I am grateful to Ben for explaining to me on the way here and (absolutely no let’s be honest about these things) but it was an impossible target to do it in the timescale because other costs involved were quite phenomenal and pressures on our NHS hospitals quite extreme. Nevertheless it is something that much more should have been done on therefore I blame the government but I also think we have got to be a bit more careful about setting all these targets anyway and while I accept that we ought to move to single sex wards and single sex accommodation as quickly as possible I think we should start leaving it to the people on the ground, local people to have a grater say as to what their priorities in the Health Service should be. I think we ought to have a situation where local people together with the experts, the nurses, the clinicians, the doctors and so on are actually determining priorities for their own area which is why I fundamentally oppose the approach the conservatives have got who now seem to want to run the NHS by some central body that is totally unelected and with no democratic accountability whatsoever.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Let’s focus on what Julie Challoner has asked. Andrew Lansley?

ANDREW LANSLEY
Well the government are to blame because they promised it in 1997, they promised it again in 2000, at the 2001 election they put it in their manifesto that they were going to abolish mixed sex wards and they consistently promised I can remember Patrician Hewitt when we challenged her back in 2006 saying she was going to get the Strategic Health Authority leaders together and tell them they have actually got to do this thing and I know what this memo said because it was leaked to me and it was basically Alan Johnson who is the Health Secretary getting together with the leaders of Strategic Health Authorities across the country and the memo that was written afterwards said didn’t say he was rattled by the government’s failure to do this thing he said, it said that the Tories had rattled Labour by exposing the fact that the Government had not lived up to its promises and I have been doing this over and over and over again and frankly it is not acceptable. It is not about targets Don, it is about treating patients with the dignity and respect they have the right to assume they should get when they go into hospital. It is allowing staff (APPLAUSE) it is allowing, I mean yesterday, yesterday I was in a hospital when in the second week of November nearly 20% of the patients in the hospital were in accommodation that didn’t meet the standard, it wasn’t single sex accommodation, it was mixed sex accommodation. The staff I talked to said they don’t want it to be like that they want to be helped to ensure that they can provide the level of privacy and dignity that they want. It is perfectly possible to do that is why you know last October I said we should use the resources that we as tax payers have voted for the dept of Health to use to help to put more single rooms into hospitals. It will deal with infection control far better, it will deal with privacy and allow us to have single sex accommodation rather than mixed sex accommodation and it will allow people to choose the privacy they need when they want it.

DIMBLEBY:
Who is to blame for failing to honour that promise on mixed sex wards Minister?

BEN BRADSHAW
I think Don was right we are to blame for making a promise in 1997 about wards which was undeliverable and none of us on this panel think that that was deliverable or is deliverable because if you are talking about accident and emergency or high dependency wards or even coronary wards it is not medically sensible to do that in fact it could be dangerous that is the first point. Secondly, I think we are to blame in not having delivered the promise we made on accommodation more quickly. Anyone who knows Alan Johnson will know Alan Johnson doesn’t get rattled Andrew but I was at the meeting he was at with the SHA’s he was impatient and he was very frustrated that we haven’t moved more quickly. We have moved significantly.

ANDREW LANSLEY
But why does it wait until we expose the failure? We exposed this in information we published two weeks and then the following Tuesday he has a meeting with the Leaders of the Health Service in order to tell them to do it. Why wasn’t he telling them a year ago, 18months ago? Why wasn’t he banging the table then rather than waiting until the opposition attacks him and then it becomes an imperative.

BEN BRADSHAW
Alan Johnson made a speech about this as you very well know to the Nursing Conference last year. He has made it his priority. The latest independent figures from the Health Care Commission the Independent Health Watchdog reveal that 9 out of 10 patients who are having elective care are having it in single sex wards but there are a few Nightingale wards that still need to be addressed and that is what Alan Johnson has promised to do.

DIMBLEBY:
You have talked about it as a promise in fact the Government claimed to have achieved the 99% of wards not being mixed sex claimed that that had been achieved on 8 May 2007. Your predecessor on the Committee in the House of Lords that was a false claim wasn’t it?

BEN BRADSHAW
Well I am not aware of that particular claim

DIMBLEBY:
Let me give you the exact words and you can comment on them (LAUGH) because I thought you might, no reason why you should have been aware because you were elsewhere. The Minister said on 8 May just after 11.15 in the House of Lords said in the Public Bill Committee in the morning on 8 May Public Bill Committee “we set out that 99% of wards should not be mixed sex and that target has been met”. Now whether she was mistaken, that was a false statement wasn’t it.

BEN BRADSHAW
Well the figures that I am giving you which are the Independent Health Care Commission figures….

DIMBLEBY:
Sorry was that a true statement or a false statement?

BEN BRADSHAW
I don’t know what the question to her was she may have been talking about wards for planned elective surgery (LAUGH) if she was including accident and emergency wards that was wrong because it is impossible and it is not medically safe to make accident and emergency wards single sex. Everybody on this panel accepts that but what we also accept and I acknowledge and I have done is that we haven’t done enough this must be a priority for the NHS in the next 6 months however Andrew advocates and so does Don advocate abandoning targets we wouldn’t get to this if we didn’t set a target, we wouldn’t have got waiting times down to 18 weeks.

ANDREW LANSLEY
Ben you published an operating framework

(Talking over each other)

DIMBLEBY:
If you both speak at once it is tremendously illuminating for no one so if you could just pause and just finish your point briefly which

BEN BRADSHAW
The point that I am making which Don half made is that if the conservatives get in and create an independent board to run the NHS they will have no control over delivering anything and are committed to abandoning all targets and I have to say that without targets we would not have got a 4 hour wait in A & E, we would not have got waiting times down to a record low of 18 weeks and we would not be getting infections. We do need to have some targets.


DIMBLEBY:
OK a brief response and then I want to bring in Suzi Leather.

(APPLAUSE)

ANDREW LANSLEY
In December the government published their instructions for the NHS a year ahead and there was no target for abolishing mixed sex accommodation it simply said that locally we would like to see a significant improvement in reducing mixed sex accommodation. There was no target and it wasn’t treated as a priority. It only became a political priority for the government because we have exposed your failure to deliver on the promises you have made for a decade.

DIMBLEBY:
We will leave that right there and remind you of Any Answers 03700 100 444 but listening very patiently may I say I meant the debate between the two protagonists we have just heard because I want to bring in Dame Suzi Leather for her overall perspective

SUZI LEATHER
Thank you a personal perspective. In December last year our 17 year old our youngest daughter needed emergency surgery and I have to admit to a sort of mixture of feelings. First of all a huge relief that she was getting the treatment that she needed but secondly profound disquiet that we had to leave her after her surgery on a mixed ward and she was opposite a young man who was an alcoholic and he was having on his mobile phone conversations which I can only say makes Jonathan Ross look rather mild and I felt very concerned about that. So I think Alan Johnson is absolutely right to be kicking up a stink about this I don’t see how the continuing existence of patient care like this in any way accords with the dignity and respect that the NHS constitution published only this week suggests.
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Our next question please


ROBERT STAMP
Were the members of the panel pleased by the Prime Minister’s abrupt U turn when he decided not to impose a 3 line Whip on the vote to exempt member’s expenses from the Freedom of Information Act?

DIMBLEBY:
Andrew Lansley

ANDREW LANSLEY
Yes because but I know why he did it. He did it because David Cameron made it clear that we would vote against it and so he was in a position where he was going to try and persist with something which was indefensible and against the opposition of our Party and the Liberal Democrats. David Cameron has been very clear he has required of us as his front bench spokesmen that we, from the middle of last year, published all of our expenses and all of the details of those expenses. He is very clear and was all the way through clear that the Freedom of Information Act requirements should apply to us as Members of Parliament in the same way as they would arrive in the any other sphere of the public sector.

DIMBLEBY:
And there was no collusion which fell apart at the last, there was no 1922 committee relationship, no Government Whip saying hang about we will keep you on side and you can win this.

ANDREW LANSLEY
No David Cameron at no stage from the point of view of the Conservative Party and the Shadow Cabinet at no stage did we enter into any deal indeed quite the opposite. We made clear that we would vote against it and I think that actually that was what stopped the government form persisting with it.

DIMBLEBY:
Don Foster

DON FOSTER
Well I don’t want to get into the who did what where and how other than to remind everybody that the last attempt a year ago to get MP’s hidden from public gaze was introduced in the House by the then Conservative Chief Whip. I can tell you until only about 3 day sago the conservatives were going to have a free vote on it, the Liberal Democrats were absolutely clear that the money we spend in expenses is your money as taxpayers and you have an absolute right to know what we spend it on and that is why we have always been opposed. (APPLAUSE) so the simple answer is I was absolutely delighted by the Prime Minister’s U turn whether it was because the Liberal Democrats first announced we were going to make it a 3 line Whip and then the Tories did or whatever it really doesn’t matter it was a disgraceful move by the Government and I am glad it has been reversed.

DIMBLEBY:
Were you glad that the Prime Minister changed his mind Ben Bradshaw?

BEN BRADSHAW
Yes I was and I am very glad that this proposal lasts approximately two days before it was reversed. I think the Freedom of Information Act is one of the pieces of legislation I am most proud of being part of the Government that has introduced. We have short memories but 12 years ago nobody in this hall, in this church, I beg your pardon, had any idea how much MP’s were claiming and how much they cost you because there was no information in the public domain so I think it would have been completely inconsistent of the government to have forced anyone to vote for an exemption for MP’s against the Freedom of Information Act and I disagree with Andrew. He has confirmed there weren’t any deals, Don has a different view. I certainly know any proposal to whip my Labour colleagues to vote for such an exemption would never have succeeded and it will not succeed so I think the issue is dead and buried thank goodness.

DIMBLEBY:
Just two quick things on that. One is you say you are glad that the Prime Minister changed his mind which suggests that you think it was very clearly a mistake even to think about seeking to exempt MP’s from the Freedom of Information Act for your colleagues to even think about it.

BEN BRADSHAW
First of all the assumption is that this was the Prime Minister’s proposal, the proposal actually came from Harriet Harman the Leader of the House whose jobs it is to do in this rather strange language to facilitate the view of the House now she may have taken the view that there was some deal, there was some agreement with the conservatives even if there had been I don’t think that would have been the right thing to do. I don’t think there should be grubby deals made over issues like this. For me it is an absolute matter of principal I have always favoured full transparency and full openness. This is the government that introduced the Freedom of Information Act we should be leading the way in requiring transparency and openness and I think now that at long last we are going to get it.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
In the name of transparency and openness I suppose I should also invite Harriet Harman to ring Any Answers to explain why she thought there should be a 3 line Whip as we have just heard so clearly from Ben. Suzi again you are following up on this it was directly to the politicians. When you heard all bout all this and when you now see the outcome what is your thought about it?


SUZI LEATHER
I just don’t think it was very well handled. They got there in the end but the principle must be that if people get expenses from the public purse they should be transparent.
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
And we will go to our next question please


MICHAEL GREEN
Beryl Bainbridge is in hot water for making disparaging remarks about the Liverpudlian accent. Is a regional accent a drawback in social or economic terms in these multicultural times?

DIMBLEBY:
Do you speak with a regional accent in your own mind yourself Mr Green?

MICHAEL GREEN
I fear not Jonathan no I started life in Yorkshire and now in lovely Devon but any accents have rubbed off in between

DIMBLEBY:
Suzi Leather. She said amongst other things that Liverpudlians sounded uneducated and she urged them to have elocution lessons which I think in Liverpool are often known as electrocution lessons. What do you make of this?

SUZI LEATHER
I thought it was a brave thing to say. Probably rather a stupid thing to say.

DIMBLEBY:
Do you think if you broaden it out do you think that if you have a very strong accent from a particular part of the country that you are in one way or another regardless of your wit, intelligence and the rest disadvantaged in reality in our society?

SUZI LEATHER
Yes I think it can be a disadvantage, I do think it can be a disadvantage

DIMBLEBY:
And do you think that means that people should thereby seek to reduce the effect of that accent or do you think we should learn to live with all kinds of accents even if for some they are hard to understand

SUZI LEATHER
Goodness we are aiming for a diverse community, a diverse society, we have to learn to live with different things. I think the most important thing is that you are true to yourself

DIMBLEBY:
Andrew

ANDREW
Yes I think we are living in a country which is becoming much more comfortable with listening to a range of accents and diversity in a whole range of different ways. I mean I do think there is a sense in which we are starting to to get sort of Received Pronunciation nowadays but a slight diminishing of those regional accents and a tendency towards a more common

DIMBLEBY:
Homogenised

ANDREW LANSLEY
Homogenised and coming from as I do from South Essex I fear that South Essex may be one of the dominant accents in this perhaps for reasons of lack of sufficient clarity and diction which is a pity. But on the positive side where accents are concerned I am always reminded when I was many years ago trying to read Chaucer the best thing to do is try to adopt a Geordie accent because if you really want to get to the closest thing to the accent that would have been used for reading language in the 14th Century it would probably have been something close to Geordie.

DIMBLEBY:
Ben

BEN BRADSHAW
Well I have personal experience of this Jonathan because when I went up to university I was form Norfolk and I had a very broad Norfolk accent and people used to laugh at me and (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY:
Had they, had they, they have stopped

BEN BRADSHAW
You see how the audience responded to that exactly my point. I think there is too much prejudice against particularly English rural local regional accents and partly the BBC is to blame because you all sound the same.

(LAUGH APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY:
Dimbleby like Ross yes OK. Don final thought

DON FOSTER
It would be disgraceful for anybody to describe Liverpudlians as being uneducated or uncultured after their fantastic success as a city of culture but I end with just one example the name of my constituency is spelt B a t h. I am a Lancashire lad imagine the difficulty I have saying it in my constituency. (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY:
And there we have to leave it next week David Blunkett, Simon Heffer Daily Telegraph, Sayeed Warsi from the Conservative Party and Sue Campbell who chairs UK Sport and is the Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust. Join us there we are going to be in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands from here in Chudleigh Parish Church. Goodbye.


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