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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions? 13 February 2009

CHAIRMAN: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY

PANELLISTS:


JANET STREET-PORTER: Editor-at-large, Independent on Sunday

DENIS MACSHANE MP: former minister for Europe

DAVID DAVIS MP: former Shadow Home Secretary

JO SWINSON MP: Liberal Democrat’s spokesperson on foreign affairs.

From The Georgian Theatre Royal, Victoria Road, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL10 4DW


DIMBLEBY:
We are on the edge of Swaledale in a most beautiful part of North Yorkshire. To make it even better we are in the town of Richmond which has just beaten Chichester and Stirling to become Great Town Year of theYear 2009, a sought after award run by the Academy of Urbanism. To make it even better still we are in the Georgian Theatre Royal the oldest working theatre in its original form in the United Kingdom and it is truly wonderful and everyone should come and see it although it is so small you couldn’t all get in at once. Around the balcony are the names of playwrights who have had their plays performed here down the centuries; Johnson, Congreve, Sheridan, Goldsmith and of course Shakespeare amongst them. And the actors who have been here Edmund Keane and Macready amongst them. Today supported by volunteers it has its own youth theatre and hosts a wide range of touring productions which just about embraces Any Questions? Treading the boards for Any Questions? David Davis the former Shadow Home Secretary who stood down to force a by election as a challenge to the Government’s now thwarted plans to introduce a 40 day detention for terror suspects. He has made liberty his light motif. Janet Street-Porter worked in television for much of her career and as a writer and columnist she is prolific. After a spell at the helm she is now the long standing Editor at Large at the Independent on Sunday. Jo Swinson was the youngest MP to be elected in 2005 when she was a mere 25 years old she joined her Party’s policy team a year later and now speaks for the Liberal Democrats on Foreign Affairs. Denis MacShane was a Foreign Office Minister until 2005 when he returned to the back benches where he is prolific in the public prints and where he has a reputation for passionate loyalty to Europe and to the leadership of his Party. Passionate is that the right term or is that a little over the top?

DENIS MACSHANE
I think if you are loyal, passionate loyalty is better than sort of wet, weak, wobbly (LAUGH) loyalty.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. He is the fourth member of our Panel

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
And our first question please

TOM SHOVLIN
What is the point in having financial regulators when they fail to regulate?

DIMBLEBY
We have the latest grim news of Lloyds Bank. £10 billion losses through HBOS, collapse in shares etc etc. David Davis.

DAVID DAVIS
Well there is no point when they can’t regulate properly. We have seen a failure of regulation that is not no regulation, just very very bad regulation and now we are seeing this week why. I mean the men who advised Gordon Brown when he created the system which allowed this to happen are the likes of Mr Crosby who has had to stand down, are the likes of Fred Goodwin who has had to stand down and these people frankly were in charge of a train wreck of a financial system. I don’t know how many of you watched this week the interrogation, I suppose that is the right word, of the bankers in front of the Select Committee of the House of Commons. There were many things which you might have been angry about or been taken aback by the thing that took me back was when somebody asked all the assembled bankers how many of you have any banking qualifications? And the answer was none. What a shame on a regulatory system.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Jo Swinson

JO SWINSON
Well there has been a shocking failure of regulation although the FSA wasn’t entirely asleep at the wheel. Back in 2006 they wrote a letter to HBOS talking about what they were doing and the destabilizing nature so they could see some of the problems coming but they entirely failed to follow through on that so even when they predicted some of the problems they actually didn’t do the job of sorting it out and obviously we have had James Crosby who was one of those very people responsible for the irresponsible lending that got us into this mess and I think Brown’s judgement really has to be in question that he then thought that was the kind of person we should appoint to do the regulating of that industry and I have to say Tory Governments as well way back in the 80’s and the Labour Government have been entirely in thrall to City Financiers mesmerized by the bankers with big money and frankly Brown has put too much faith in them. You just need to look at the names of the people who are behind this. You know Sir Fred, Sir Victor, Sir James, Sir Tom these people have all been honoured for their services to the financial industry and in fact they are the people who have left us in the mess that we are now all having to clear up (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Does the Prime Minister have much to answer for in this Denis MacShane?

DENIS MACSHANE
I think we all do. I could do a knock about and say to Jo Swinson’s Lib Dem MP that the biggest donor of the Lib Dems is one of these crooked bankers who is now in prison but the Lib Dems won’t give back the money to the people that he stole it from. I could make comments to David Davis but what has actually happened the last 25 or 30 years is we have given up an ethic of responsibility. The demutualisation. The fact that we don’t have retail banks separate from the whizz-kid investment banks, we had the BCCI bank credit and commerce scandal about 15 years ago that destroyed people, mainly Asian people, citizens so perhaps many other people didn’t really notice it but we have now got to get a completely new culture. About regulation I would like to see a Hippocratic Oath for bankers that they accept some responsibility, they guard our money, we have to trust them, they have to behave responsibly. I can do the knock about. Yes I think the Labour Government is also part of this culture of the last 30 years how then do we move forward. You want knock about, you want me to attack Tory ideas or Liberal Democrat ideas

DIMBLEBY
No just on the question. Let’s say the Labour Government shares responsibility I mean it was actually for the last 10 years the Government it was actually running the show and when you say share the responsibility does that mean that Gordon Brown ought to take responsibility for what on the face of it in many people’s judgement is an appalling error in appointing Sir James Crosby with what had happened at HBOS to the position that he then had to resign from.

DENIS MACSHANE
He was appointed as I understand it as a non-Executive Director to the Financial Services Authority which I actually think was a good idea because it was a huge mistake to leave the Bank of England in charge of supervising banks. No other country does that, you do need an external body, and he brought in then people regarded as the super whizz kid experts.

DIMBLEBY
Was that a misjudgment? People, you read the papers, you listen to the radio you hear the voices of the public people say why can’t the Prime Minister say I got that wrong. I made a mistake. I am sorry. That is what you hear people wanting to hear.

(APPLAUSE)

DENIS MACSHANE
Jonathan I am obviously now the modulator and you are the fourth panellist.

DIMBLEBY
No that is an absurd… with respect that, with respect that is an absurd thing to say I am asking you a question

DENIS MACSHANE TALKING OVER

DENIS MACSHANE
I don’t think the Chairman should seek applause. (CRIES FROM AUDIENCE)

DIMBLEBY
I am sure you will get some and I can’t help it if I get it by asking you a question (LAUGH)

DENIS MACSHANE
What I will say is, what I will say is yes I think we have got things wrong, I think the culture got things wrong. I now, everybody is hammering quite rightly so but I don’t remember the BBC Economics Correspondent or the newspapers or many of the distinguished politicians of all Parties who are incredibly wise about what now should be done. They were in the House of Commons 3 or 4 years ago we were worshipped the idea of deregulation, we worshipped the idea of getting the government off the banks and business, we worshipped the idea of demutualisation, we worshipped the idea of taking away an ethic of responsibility.

JANET STREET-PORTER
Right Denis hang on hang on you are into major waffle now... Can I just say all the way through this

DIMBLEBY
I should introduce Janet Street-Porter.

JANET STREET-PORTER
You have been talking about we have given up the ethic of responsibility. By we I assume you mean politicians and people in Government because people in this audience haven’t given up the bloody ethic of responsibility (APPLAUSE) we are the savers. The people in this audience are the savers. We have been given up by you lot. We have been absolutely put out to dry. Nobody wants to know about savers.

DENIS MACSHANE
Janet may I could you actually show me


JANET STREET-PORTER
No hang on a minute I am a woman who actually over the last 10 years has saved money, I have looked after my money and I have saved my money and now I have got no thanks for it, there is nowhere to put it and nothing to do with it because it is actually losing money by the minute. (APPLAUSE) So what all this crisis brings home to me is there is a kind of we and there is the rest of us. The we is you guys, the bankers, the politicians and as has been pointed out too much too often the bankers went into politics and are now sitting in the House of Lords and it is like a cosy club that the people listening to this programme, the ordinary people who go out pay their tax try and save, try and pay their mortgage, we are not in your club and it plays really badly.

DIMBLEBY
Denis Macshane

DENIS MACSHANE
Janet, I agree, I am a saver, I have 4 children I have got to help through education, university. We all are here. In every country in the world we are. What I would like to say though is when I say we I mean you are a very distinguished Sunday newspaper Editor of a number of years please send me the articles you published when you were a Sunday newspaper Editor saying this has be changed, don’t demutualise, don’t deregulate put in tough people, separate retail banking from overseas banking and that I am afraid is my concern

JANET STREET-PORTER
Well we do elect politicians to act on our behalf. We don’t expect politicians to collude with bankers.

DIMBLEBY
Jo Swinson

JO SWINSON
To be fair what I could give you Denis is extracts from Hansard of Vince Cable standing up in Parliament in 2003 saying (APPLAUSE) that the level of lending that banks were going down, the irresponsibility of it, the amount of credit that was being offered was creating a big personal debt bubble that was ultimately going to burst and at the time Gordon Brown dismissed what he was saying and said that he was just talking nonsense and in fact he has been proved right sadly and if Gordon Brown had listened then we might be in a better situation now.

DIMBLEBY
I would like to go back (APPLAUSE) please to our questioner Tom Shovlin Your thought about this?


TOM SHOVLIN
Yes I am disappointed at the apparent weakness of the FSA. They did admit that they were aware of the problems with Northern Rock but failed to do anything about it and I am aware that they wrote to HBOS as was said in 2002 and 2004 making observations about the rapid growth of HBOS but didn’t seem to put any strength or vehemence into their observations and in fact didn’t appear then to do anything about it.

DIMBLEBY
OK I will leave that there thank you with an invitation to you, if you have thoughts about this, which judging by the past many weeks some of you will have to ring Any Answers after the Saturday broadcast of this programme. It is 03700 100 444 the number and the email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Our next question please.


MIKE JESSOP
Does £116,000 represent a fair rent for one room in London?

DIMBLEBY
This is a reference I suspect to the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith am I right yes. That is totting up over the last 5 years the expenses she has claimed on her family home in her constituency because she lodges with her sister in London which is her first home by her definition and has been approved by the House of Commons accordingly. Jo Swinson

JO SWINSON
Well I know certainly that prices in London are high but no I think it seems like a huge amount of money and the public are understandably sitting there asking questions about well hang on a second has this been designated as you remain home or your second home? The rules seem to have entirely failed to create a system whereby people do what is seen to be reasonable. And the thing that actually I find so depressing about this is not so much that we have these things coming into the papers but when these things do emerge there is such defensiveness among the political class and it is almost as if the House of Commons doesn’t want to do anything about it. We have the same thing over expenses. It is like getting blood out of a stone. We have had so many Freedom of Information court cases to try to stop MP’s expenses being published. the Government even tried to change the law a couple of weeks ago, thankfully did a U-turn on that and I just don’t understand why it is not blatantly obvious to my fellow politicians that clearly MP’s expenses need to be transparent, the information needs to be in the public domain, it is taxpayers money, it needs to be obvious how we are spending it and then our constituents can question us if they have got problems about how that is done.

DIMBLEBY
I don’t know but do you have, do you have a constituency home and a place in London

JO SWINSON
Yes I rent a flat in London because my constituency is in Scotland

DIMBLEBY
And you claim on one of them?

JO SWINSON
My rent in London is paid for by the House of Commons allowances.

DIMBLEBY
And do you think in that sense that Jacqui Smith is, there has been a huge fuss about it, that what she has done obviously it is perfectly legal is it appropriate as well in your view?


JO SWINSON
Well I think that to designate somewhere as your main home which is one room that is in another place with your entire family at another place doesn’t seem very sensible. At the same time she probably does spend more nights in London and that is where I think the rules probably do need to be changed. I actually would like to see the rules change so that MP’s couldn’t make capital gains on their second homes and that any gain accrued to the tax payer but unfortunately the House of Commons doesn’t seem to want to change that either.

DIMBLEBY
David Davis?

(APPLAUSE)

DAVID DAVIS
Clearly what Jacqui Smith has done is obeyed the letter of the law because she is not being pursued by the House of Commons authorities but she has not obeyed the spirit in the sense that the purpose of this allowance is to enable members of Parliament to live both in London and in their constituency. Your member of Parliament here lives just up the road I know and that is not there as Jo says to allow them to make huge profit or to fund growing houses shall we say and it is long overdue. It is long overdue frankly that we have had some pretty major changes in the administration of the expenses of the House of Commons and it needs to be audited on an annual basis and every single person’s accounts have to be audited and that is all you can say about it. It just has to be got a grip of because otherwise, I have lived now through 20 years or so of British politics and throughout that time the I am afraid the reputation of politics has gone downhill and that is partly driven by things like this and it is very very bad indeed for democracy and bad for our Parliament.

DIMBLEBY
Can I just ask you the same question do you have two homes,

DAVID DAVIS
Yes one in London

DIMBLEBY
And you claim for one of them?

DAVID DAVIS
That’s right.

DIMBLEBY
What one do you claim for?


DAVID DAVIS
I claim for the one in Yorkshire. Yes I was required to. When I was a Minister you had to have the first one in London.

DIMBLEBY
How do you see this from outside as it were Janet Street-Porter?

JANET STREET-PORTER
I think most people listening to the programme will think my goodness we are in a recession and we are reading in the papers about people going to Job Centres looking for jobs and they are being asked to take cleaning jobs at £5.03 per hour and this is playing really really badly. Jacqui Smith might have been within the letter of the law or the letter of the agreement but in terms of political fall out as it stands in the last election we had a very very low turn out and people are increasingly cynical about whether the politicians inhabit their world. Something like this is just going to drive another nail into the coffin of democracy.; It does really worry me because we need at the next election to attract more first time voters and at the moment every election we see a lower and lower turn out from first time voters and it is issues like this that are fundamental. You see I really do have a problem with this because it is all part of the culture of bonuses and perks as well isn’t it because you kind of think hang on we have got all these bankers demanding these bonuses and then we read in the paper today about all these civil servants and their days at Wimbledon that they have to go to Wimbledon to make contacts and most of us make contacts down the pub don’t we. You don’t need to go to the Chelsea Flower show to make a contact. But it is all that kind of - there are two worlds in Britain. There is normal world and there is this world. Perk world. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Mike Jessop’s specific question is is it a fair rent for one room in London. We know she claims £24,000 is that as the questioner puts it a fair rent Denis MacShane?

DENIS MACSHANE
I think that is a perfectly good question and the answer obviously is it depends which bit of London. There are garages in London on sale for you know £500,000. I know when I was elected 15 years ago and my 4th son arrived just after I was elected unless I had an allowance to live in both my constituency in South Yorkshire and in London well I couldn’t have done it. He would never have seen me. In the old days it was alright. You had MP’s who were incredibly wealthy. We are going back to that now. Most of the Tory front bench are millionaires and they can afford it. (LAUGH) I agree with Jo, I agree with David, no David that is why you are not on the front bench. (LAUGH) If you could retrospectively get an old Etonian tie and outside earnings of several hundreds thousand pounds like most of the front benchers in the Tory Party you could get back on there.

DIMBLEBY
You are one of the millionaires who are not on the front bench aren’t you David Davis?

DAVID DAVIS
I wish I were.

DENIS MACSHANE
But look I agree with Jo and with David. We have read this week that the BBC part time Chairman trousered £67,000 of expenses last year and I agree with Janet and I have never ever seen a newspaper at Wimbledon, well I don’t go to Wimbledon or at the posh dos and when newspaper editors perhaps not retired ones Janet behave like politicians then I will be impressed by their moralizing. Now what we need is complete transparency. I would much rather this was out in the open actually before when I worked for the BBC my overnight allowance multiplied was far more generous than what an MP would get now. I would like a proper wage, complete transparency all of our staff openly employed by Parliament, that is what they do in Australia, it is about 3 times more expensive, so actually if you want taxpayers money to go up in terms of letting MP’s work adopt the Australian, American model and I don’t know how we will finish, I am very sad at the end of 11 or 12 years of a Labour Government we still have problems over Party funding. I want no outside earnings for MP’s, no outside Directorships, none of these William Hague £20,000 earnings for speeches (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
Does that mean you want to be able to give up any earnings you may have from your splendid

JANET STREET-PORTER
Yes (SPEAKING OVER you had an article in the Guardian yesterday

DENIS MACSHANE
Janet the Guardian pay is so low it is even worse than the Independent. I will give it to this theatre trust fund as a donation (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Can I just get that, you are giving all your earnings from journalism to this theatre.

DENIS MACSHANE
From the Guardian Jonathan.

DIMBLEBY
Oh sorry

DENIS MACSHANE
If it pays for the tea bags you will be doing well.

DIMBLEBY
We will move to our next question please


JULIE TEASDALE
What information on Wikipedia would you like to change?

DIMBLEBY
While Janet Street-Porter thinks of her answer I will just remind you this relates to Titian and a Tory Party underling who changed a Wikipedia entry in relation to Titian suggesting that he died at the age of 86 when the Wikipedia article suggested I think that it was 92. It allowed David Cameron to make a joke at the Prime Minister’s expense which slightly backfired once the scam was exposed. Janet Street-Porter.

JANET STREET-PORTER
Oh have you got that much time on your hands you can fiddle around on Wikipedia (LAUGH). Isn’t it a bit like twittering which we were talking about earlier which I think someone on this panel twitters? Twitter for people who are listening is a new form of blogging when you are only allowed to do 140 characters but it is like telling people all over the world that you cat has just peeed or just changed the baby’s nappy or if you are in Parliament you know Vince Cable stood up and he is doing well.

DIMBLEBY
Meanwhile back to the question

JANET STREET-PORTER
Back to the question. I read my entry on Wikipedia and it was so flattering I couldn’t be bothered to enhance it. (LAUGH).

DIMBLEBY
Jo Swinson

JO SWINSON
I have been outed as one of the MP’s who twitters as a way of just trying to

JANET STREET-PORTER
By the way twitters are what usually happens on my bird table when I put down food and the goldfinches arrive

DIMBLEBY
Jo twitter away Jo

JO SWINSON
It is an interesting experiment in trying to connect to democracy and bring it a little bit closer to people and I get quite good two way communications from some of the other people on twitter. But back to Wikipedia I have to say I don’t necessarily go on to Wikipedia very much but I do know occasionally there are mischievous entries


DIMBLEBY
Do you not. You are unlike most academics, most politicians, most journalists most students aren’t you? They all use Wikipedia

JO SWINSON
I tend to use Google much more often than Wikipedia if I am looking for information on things but there we go. But what I quite like about Wikipedia is that yes sometimes people are mischievous and they put information up there that isn’t true but one of the amazing things about it is you have got this whole community of people out there who are entirely unpaid just doing this as volunteers who effectively police Wikipedia and make sure that as soon as something is put up that is wrong it gets taken down very very quickly. And I just think there is something just wonderful in that. There is a whole on line community of people just volunteering to keep something that is valuable going and that is one of the things that I think the internet brings people together even who might be on entirely different sides of the planet and is a really good development actually.

JANET STREET-PORTER
The reason I am back tracking on it is there is no real fact checking it is all like a collegiate of amateurs

JO SWINSON
Yes but they get quite good results from that actually.

DENIS MACSHANE
Well like most newspapers now no fact checking (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
Denis MacShane you had better have your go on the Wikipedia

DENIS MACSHANE
I have a Wiki story which is I went to a catholic school and when I was in the first form a guy called Chris Patten distinguished conservative was the head boy and once when we were together at Conference a year or two ago and I write a lot about the problem of anti- Semitism and the Wiki entry alterers get in and always change my entry to make me out to be a kind of roaring Zionist which I am not and Israel first and horrible language like that. One of the entries said and he is a secret Jew. And this was mentioned and Patten and you know we were all good Catholics both at the same good catholic school and had to go into the shower together after rugby said Denis isn’t a Jew. (LAUGH). That isn’t too rude for Any Questions. This isn’t a Jonathan Ross type of story is it.

DIMBLEBY
I think it will just about get by but we will hear, we will hear. We will hear and I will get the sack. David Davis

DAVID DAVIS
For once I will listen to Any Answers after that.

DIMBLEBY
Chris Patten can ring in if you like to Any Answers. The number Lord Patten is 03770 100 444. David

DAVID DAVIS
Well I was just going to say Jo that the Google top entry is the Wikipedia entry but I have to admit I am suddenly sitting here thinking about my own gullibility because whenever I read Wikipedia I believe it. Now I don’t know whether Titian is 82, 88, 90, 96 or

JO SWINSON
Dead actually.

DIMBLEBY
John Julius Norwich, (LAUGH) John Julius Norwich . Lord Norwich who was on the radio a little bit earlier someone citing him as acknowledged master of Venetian Arts says that he actually died when he was 97 so there we are. If anybody wants to say anything about that 03700 100 444.

DENIS MACSHANE
Sorry does this mean that Gordon Brown is Prime Minister until he is 97 Jonathan.

DIMBLEBY
You could draw that inference I suppose we will go to our next question

DENIS MACSHANE
I will rush to change Wikipedia right away

DIMBLEBY
Our next question please


ELEANOR WINKWORTH
Where does the right to free speech end and the right not to be offended begin?

DIMBLEBY
The case of the Dutch MP Geert Wilders who made a film about Islam for which he was banned from entering this country as an alleged threat to public security by the Home Secretary. Janet Street-Porter

JANET STREET-PORTER
Well it is interesting that by banning this MP we in fact gave him probably far more media coverage than if we had allowed him in and that generally is the case. If you think about it in the case every time there has been a court case oh God I am so old I can remember back to the blasphemy case against Gay News years and years ago. Every time there has been a case where someone has tried to ban something if we think about the musical about Jerry Springer about all those people trying from the right wing evangelical Christians trying to get it banned the net result was it was on the television and probably 100’s of thousands more people saw it and I think banning anything to do with free speech is a bad idea. I think you just have to think the best of your fellow human beings and thing that they can make their own minds and I always tend to look at other people and judge them positively rather than negatively and think you know they are going to listen to this person and form a considered opinion and let him speak I don’t think we achieved anything by turning him back (PPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Denis MacShane

DENIS MACSHANE
Jonathan as you know I am a former President of the National Union of Journalists and we have both held that card. The question was where does free speech end and the right

DIMBLEBY
The right not to be offended begin

DENIS MACSHANE
The right not to be offended. I am sorry there is no right not to be offended. Let me repeat that. There is no right not to be offended. That is what Britain stands for. I t doesn’t matter if you are a Catholic or a Protestant or you are Jewish or you are Muslim or Hindu or indeed you are an atheist who doesn’t like faith. You have to accept offence. Give that up and frankly that is freedom over. Now on this particular case it is extraordinary two giant self seeking magnets came together. This weirdo Islam hating racist right winger from the Netherlands met the people who bring in, have brought in creatures of hate against Jews I am talking about ultra Islamists and they clashed and we have now got a terrible scene. I am slightly ashamed that any European Government should say to any elected member of another Government you can’t come in here. I feel sorry for Jacqui Smith. I know that is a difficult perhaps after the remarks earlier. Nonetheless she rightly banned a guy called Sheikh al Qaradhawi who promotes violence, who promotes killing Jews who says it is alright to go and commit suicide bombing if it is about killing Jews in Israel. He was allowed in previously in the 1990’s 4 times by the conservative government. This is not a criticism because I don’t think Michael Howard or David Cameron who was his adviser then had any idea who this man was it is time we read, the difference I make is between offence and incitement to kill. Now this guy Wilders has said Europe and America should join a giant campaign against Islam. That is close to incitement yet, yet I still think I stand with Voltaire I disagree with what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it. I have to say despite the decision Mr Wilders has had far too much publicity and it is 20 years Jonathan, 20 years the exact anniversary this week since there was a Fatwa against a great British writer called Salman Rushdie and not far from here people were burning his book British citizens and the same people now want to stop free speech and we have to say politely to them join the debate. Is Ed Hussein the great Muslim I think now leader and thinker in our country Ed Hussein today in the Independent said “free speech join the debate” I have to say Jo Chris Huhne your spokesman said no let’s have censorship and ban this man and I think you as a Liberal should oppose Chris Huhne on this.

DIMBLEBY
That was a very interesting (APPLAUSE). That was a very interesting answer because without wishing to point up too much you have very clearly said you think the government is wrong and Jacqui Smith is wrong although you have sympathy with her.;

DENIS MACSHANE
I think she is dammed if she did and dammed if she didn’t. We had said rightly not to let in Sheik al Qaradhawi. He raised it in the House of Commons. He didn’t mention the fact that he had been Michael Howard’s adviser…

DIMBLEBY
Let’s stick

DENIS MACSHANE
No you are right Jonathan I am not happy with this decision at all. So at the end of the day I remain a Voltaire defender of enlightenment and ex president of the NUJ, a proud member of the National Union of Journalists with you and I think freedom of speech is more important than giving, not giving offence.

DIMBLEBY
Was Chris Huhne wrong, Jo Swinson when he decided how important freedom of Speech was but not as important as keeping this guy out?


JO SWINSON
I disagree with his judgement on this issue and in answer to the question I agree with Denis. I don’t think there is a right not to be offended. It is not against the law to offend somebody nor should it be and free speech I think ends when it turns into incitement to violence and you could watch that film and Chris has clearly come to the judgement that that film does incite violence. I watched that film and I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t. It is pretty vile and revolting. It wasn’t a pleasant film to watch but what actually I thought was interesting. I watched it on U Tube obviously and it is quite difficult to find this specific film because when you search for it under Geert Wilders name and you suddenly get not just the film but all of these responses that people have made to the film rebutting the translation of the Koran there is even spoof films out there. There is one called Schism where instead of using Islam it uses quotes from the Bible and footage of the war in Iraq and the Klu Klux Klan and basically goes to show how any text can be twisted if you wanted to pick and choose you can actually create something that horrific out of any text that you like and what I actually thought in looking at all of those different responses which of course in this day and age of immediate communications can be put together very very quickly is that is where the debate is happening and there is nobody that can go and find that film and not at least see that there is lots of people disagreeing with it and that there is other views out there and that in my mind is free speech at its best. I do regret that this horrible man has had so much publicity because frankly that is what he craved and unfortunately in banning him we have just given him that oxygen but at least there has been the opportunity for people to put the case and say actually what he has made the film out is absolute rubbish. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
David Davis

DAVID DAVIS
Well the answer to the question where does free speech end I am afraid the answer is a lot further out than this government is willing to allow and the judgement I don’t think there is a dammed if you do dammed if you don’t aspect to it. The test is does the action incite violence? This man was going to speak to and he is a pretty repugnant individual I don’t think there is nay doubt about that. He was going to speak to 20 geriatric peers what did Jacqui Smith think was going to happen? Zimmer frame fight. I mean it simply isn’t real. I mean there was an assertion but Lord Ahmed who had himself invited Al Qaeda supporters at an earlier date that there would be he said 10,000 Muslims on the street, ||I think that was nonsense but you can’t actually stop somebody coming to exercise free speech because there is a threat from his opponents whoever that might be. That is exactly the wrong thing to do. The way to defeat the extremists is to have them come make their case, ridicule them, turn them over, defeat them in public debate that is what Britain is all about and the day we abandon that is a day of shame for us I am afraid (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Quick word Janet Street-Porter

JANET STREET-PORTER
Just briefly what Jo said is so true though. Free speech already exists on the internet where there are no boundaries so this man can get into everybody’s living room any day of the week if you want to log on you can see the film any way. So I don’t even think he needed to come here and the second thing really briefly is we do seem to get offended about a lot of things these days don’t we. Is that real offence or just newspapers drumming up the idea of offence?

DIMBLEBY
My cue to go to the questioner prompting these responses... Eleanor Winkworth what is your own opinion

ELEANOR WINKWORTH
Yes I think the strength of democracy does lie in taking whatever comes at it and it is weakened by trying to curtail people voicing their opinions.

DIMBLEBY
Who in this audience a show of hands if you would... Who thinks it was the right decision to bar Wilder from entering the United Kingdom. Would you put your hands up? Who thinks it was the wrong decision? Well this is a unanimous view, there may be some who sat on their hands but this is a unanimous view that this was the wrong decision not one hand went up in support of the decision by the Home Secretary. If you have thoughts about that. Am I being corrected was their one hand that went up. I am sorry there was one hand I couldn’t see it in the arc lights in this wonderful theatre.
The Any Answers number in any case on this or any other matter is 03700 100 444 and the email address for the last time in this programme I will give you any.answers@bbc.co.uk. We will go to our next please.


ANGELA CLARK
What is the ideal age to become a parent for the first time?

(LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
I imagine in the questioner’s mind a very sombre context as well the 13 year old boy who has, now has a child with a mother who is 15. He was 12 when the baby was conceived. Jo Swinson

JO SWINSON
Well I am 29 and I keep reading in women’s magazines about how women are all leaving it too late these days. I don’t know. First of all I don’t think there is one ideal age to have children it will vary for different people and I know people who are now my age who had children in their late teens and their children are now 10 years old or whate3ver and that has worked for them very well, had their children early and now they are dealing with getting back to grips with their career and obviously there is also a trend for a lot of people to have their families later particularly if they are wanting to get established in their career first. But I think clearly what nobody wants to see is 12 and 13 year olds having sex and having children at that kind of age it is not in any way desirable and what we want to see and really we have to look at the failure there has been . These young parents have been failed because they are children themselves and yet they haven’t had whether from their own parents or from the education system the kind of information and education so that they have the confidence and the self respect to delay that decision to have sex until an appropriate point.

DIMBLEBY
Can I ask you when you say appropriate point presumably what brought about the situation were the same sort of urges that make people sleep with another when they are 16, 17, 18, 20, 50, 70, 90 so what is the appropriate age and why do you think information and education makes people say well we are not going to do it at the age of 14 or 15 because we know it is more responsible to do it when we are 17. I am asking a really serious question I think kids kind of say well what is everyone on about?

JO SWINSON
But I think there is a lot of pressure involved I mean there is continual imagery of sex everywhere you look in terms of advertising and magazines and I think the pressures on young people these days are absolutely immense. There is an increased amount of access to alcohol and drugs and often teenage pregnancies are linked to that when obviously people’s judgments are impaired. And it is not about whether there is an ideal age for each individual I think it is about them getting to the stage when they realise they have got the maturity and it is right for them that is clearly not going to be at 12 or 13 though,. So they have been let down in terms of having that confidence to make that kind of mature decision. They have also been let down in the actual basics in terms of facts of life because the very fact that this has resulted in a pregnancy means they were having unprotected sex. They weren’t just having sex they were having unprotected sex and in addition to the pregnancy which is obviously one risk they are running a huge risk of health risks through the STI’s that are out there. We have got rising Chlamydia rates in young women and this is really not something which has been got to grips with. It is something which absolutely young people are being railed in and I think the education system and also parents need to take some responsibility in making sure that it is got right.

DIMBLEBY
Janet Street-Porter

JANET STREET-PORTER
Let’s not get too over-exercised about one 12 or 13 year old boy that has become a dad but let’s get more over-exercised about all these disgusting men in their 60’s having children with very young women. Only this week I read that Robin Gibb ex- Bee Gee has had a baby with the woman who worked for him and the baby has been called Snow Robin and he is still living with his wife and he said it is a gift from God and I could add to that list Woody Allen, John Humphrys, Des O’Connor and all these geriatric men who think it is perfectly OK to procreate with young women. Now that is of more concern to me than one misguided young man who has produced a baby with a 15 year old girl. It is not the end of civilisation as we know it all over the world you know children are getting married or having babies far younger than they are in this country. I don’t think it is the end we haven’t failed magically Jo, one person got it wrong.

JO SWINSON
It is not just one person

DIMBLEBY
I am going to move on to Denis MacShane

DENIS MACSHANE
It isn’t just one person you mustn’t trivialize this. We have a huge problem with commercialization the sexualisation and the commoditization if I can use that word of childhood. Children are exposed now through the media to invitations to cease being children. We trivialise family life. I am not interested whether old men

JANET STREET-PORTER
Well you wouldn’t be because you are an older man

DENIS MACSHANE
You laugh at this but in my constituency we have and in many parts of the country a serious problems with girls, young women, under the age of 16 having children. All I would say is unless we return to a respect for childhood then again I think our country becomes weaker. I was shocked today by that story. I am sorry I thought it was horrible and worrying and there I read an initiative to encourage GP’s to give adequate contraceptive advice and help to girls under the age of 16 and then I read an editorial in the Daily Mail attacking it as encouraging promiscuity. When are we actually going to understand that we have to educate our girls into the problem of sexually transmitted disease into how you get pregnant and actually teach people? The right age for a parent no there are wonderful caring parents that I know who started a second family, even a first family in their 50’s or 60’s , there are wonderful young people, her Majesty the Queen had her fist child at 22 I think she has been an outstanding mother in her own way. I don’t think the age is the question I do think thought that we actually have to say to the Daily Mail protect our children, we have to say to those who sell sex and turn our children into commercial objects and sell sex to them let our children be children because we are actually destroying childhood this way and we should not trivialize it on Any Questions? (APPLAUSE)

JANET STREET-PORTER
I am not

DIMBLEBY
I am bringing David Davis in

DAVID DAVIS
I was going to start by answering Janet by wishing her a Happy Valentine’s Day. As for when (speaking as an older man you know) as for the age well to be young enough to enjoy them but old enough to support them both physically and emotionally. And clearly these youngsters today I mean I looked at the pictures in the paper today and it did look like the young brother of a baby rather then the father of a baby and it was horrifying frankly. I do find it horrifying. And the terrible truth about this is that we as a country have invested vast amounts of money and resource into sex education. About the mechanics of sex and maybe even about the problems of sexually transmitted disease and so on and what happens. 20% increase in sexually transmitted disease. We have got the highest number of teenage parents in Europe so it isn’t working and we do have to think hard about it but what we have to think hard about is actually teaching youngsters about relationships as well as just physical sex and if we do that it may at least be one step to preventing what happened today.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. And we just have time for one more please


LINDA CURRAN
Gloom, doom and depression is all around us could the panel bring a little light relief and tell us what is the most romantic thing they have done for Valentine’s Day?

DIMBLEBY
Who wants to start? Denis?

DENIS MACSHANE
Mmmmmm

DIMBLEBY
Yes, yes

DENIS MACSHANE
Because my Valentine has already seen a beautiful heart shape box of the most perfect Swiss chocolates and if she won’t eat them because you know what partners are like I will.

DIMBLEBY
Jo Swinton

JO SWINSON
Well I am all for a bit of romance on Valentine’s Day but for a little bit of light relief I think we have actually got a bit too commercialized about Valentine’s Day. I was browsing for a Valentine’s card last week and alongside to the boyfriend, to the husband, to the wife, to the fiancé card I saw a Valentine’s card to the cat. And I am sorry when we are starting to have marketing men telling us to send Valentine’s cards to a pet I think we all need to take a bit of a step backwards.

DIMBLEBY
Janet Street-Porter

JANET STREET-PORTER
Well I am not a very romantic person

DIMBLEBY
Well you will surprise a lot of people here.

(LAUGH)

JANET STREET-PORTER
Well I am a kind of serial monogamist 4 husbands, no pets, no children. But my partner did bake me a Valentine’s cake that was like a heart-shaped biscuit and that was lovely.


DIMBLEBY
And old soft romantic himself. Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis

DAVID DAVIS
Well since my wife is listening I am not going to tell you about tomorrow. But we did go for a candlelit dinner down the Seine in Paris two weeks ago.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
And on that deeply touching note we come to the end of this week’s programme unfortunately. Next week we are going to be in Manchester with Andy Burnham who is the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the Sunday Times columnist Minette Marrin, the Author Frank Cottrell Boyce and AN Other as yet to be announced. Hope you can join us there. Meanwhile from here in the Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond which is so wonderful I can hardly stop talking about but I have to. Goodbye.


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