Leading politicians sit down with School Report

  • 14 March 2012
  • From the section Home

Political leaders were questioned on a range of topics that matter to young people - from questions on social and economic policy to lighter subjects such as whether they were bossed around by their mums - as part of BBC News School Report, which helps school students make the news from their own perspective.

The leaders of parties and leading figures in the nations were all put on the spot by students from schools around the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron

When School Reporters joined him in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing St, PM David Cameron was quizzed on his government's controversial proposed changes to the National Health Service - and insisted they were "right" despite being "clearly not that popular".

He was challenged by School Reporter Poppy, who said she and her mum - a nurse - were concerned about them.

Will from Corby Business College asked Mr Cameron why budget cuts had been so severe - saying his county council had been forced to turn off street lights at night, "putting our safety in jeopardy and giving the locals less confidence to go out at night".

That was a "difficult question", Mr Cameron said - but he explained that the country had been borrowing more than it received in taxes, creating a "huge overdraft".

He said it was up to local government bodies to decide how to handle their reductions, and said they were encouraged to target bureaucracy rather than front line services.

Mr Cameron also admitted completing most levels of the computer game Angry Birds, as it was "quite addictive".

And asked whether his mum told him what to do, Mr Cameron said she sometimes "makes a few gentle suggestions and hints, in the way mums do - and you sort of get the message, without having to be told absolutely what to do".

Click here for the full report.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg

When he submitted to the School Report microphone, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted government policy was providing an alternative to young people tempted to join gangs.

The Liberal Democrat leader was asked about cutbacks to the Connexions youth service by Danny, a pupil from Brent.

Mr Clegg said turning the economy around and providing jobs would "give people and sense of purpose and hope", and was "probably in the long run the most important thing of all".

And Chris, a student from Lagan College in Northern Ireland, made his mark by asking how people in his part of the UK would benefit from spending on the Olympics.

Mr Clegg insisted the event would increase investment and tourist expenditure despite the fact that so much focus would inevitably be on London.

"You bet," he replied to a question about whether his mum still told him what to do, but these days via email - "the instruction always comes through", he said.

Asked about his morning routine by Jennifer from Bannockburn High School, he said his children got him up at 0530 - which meant "because I'm so bleary-eyed, perhaps I'm not quite as quick as I should be".

Click here to read the full report.

Labour leader Ed Miliband

Labour leader Ed Miliband used his School Report interview to repeat his calls for stricter media ownership legislation in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

Mr Miliband said media tycoon Rupert Murdoch had too much influence.

"It is unfair for one man to have so much control of the media: he owns Sky, the Times, the Sun and the Sun on Sunday and that's too much," he said.

"Organisations start to think they don't have to answer to anybody."

Miliband also spoke about how his family history had shaped his views on immigration, explaining that his father "came here in 1940 seeking asylum - he was 16 and living in Belgium at the time and obviously the Nazis were moving into Belgium.

"So I think it's really important that Britain is a place that genuine refugees - people fleeing from persecution - are able to come. I think it's a very proud tradition. I wouldn't be here if that hadn't happened for my family."

But Mr Miliband said that Labour had erred in allowing immediate full rights to workers from countries which joined the European Union in 2004.

Asked whether he used to fight with his brother over who got to sit in the front seat of the car, Mr Miliband insisted they had not had that kind of competitive relationship.

And he also revealed that his wife Justine has a pet name of "sweetie" for him, and that he has a penchant for "bad 1980s music". One School Reporter advised him to listen to Ed Sheeran instead.

Click here to read the full report.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond

In his interview, Alex Salmond defended his backing for 16 and 17 year-olds to be given the vote - something opposed by the UK government at Westminster.

The Scottish first minister said they were old enough to get married and sign up for the armed forces, so should be able to vote - including in an upcoming referendum on Scottish independence.

Mr Salmond outlined his support for Scottish independence, saying although many things would not change - people would still go to work and school - it would give the Scottish parliament "full control" over economic and social policy, such as whether to send troops to war.

If Scotland did become independent, Mr Salmond said, it would begin selling some its resources - such as water - to neighbouring countries including England.

Scotland has chosen not to follow the English decision to allow universities to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, and Mr Salmond said the benefits of that policy had been reflected in admission figures, which had been maintained in Scotland unlike England.

He said the number of full-fee-paying international students had risen 20%, "which must be a bit of a tribute to Scottish education".

Click here to read the full report.

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones

Better sports facilities were needed in north Wales to help address the country's north-south divide, Ieuan Wyn Jones told his School Report interviewers.

He said a stadium, such as that in Wrexham, should be upgraded to give it national prominence.

And he also expressed the hope that the region would produce more sports stars, such as rugby player George North.

Despite giving up the Plaid Cymru leadership, Mr Jones said he would remain very active in politics - not only serving as the Welsh Assembly member for his Ynys Mon constituency but also trying to develop fresh policy ideas for his party.

Click here to read the full report.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

The leaders of Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive disagreed over grammar schools when they were questioned by School Reporters.

First Minister Peter Robinson insisted they should be protected while Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the selection they represented was "morally wrong".

The issue of grammar schools remains a potent one in Northern Irish politics. The 11-plus exam which used to determine entry into selective grammar schools was abolished in 2008, but new unofficial exams have since been introduced.

Mr Robinson rejected the notion put forward by Cordelia from St Catherine's College that young people in Northern Ireland faced the prospect of "rising tuition fees, bleak job prospects and an ever-increasing lack of hope".

He claimed tuition fees had not increased - but that was disputed by Cordelia, who said fees were not frozen for pupils born after 1997.

Meanwhile, Mr McGuinness insisted the government was putting in place strategies to overcome sectarianism.

And asked whether the vote should be extended to 16 year olds - who, after all, could ride a moped, get a job, and join the army - Mr McGuinness said he agreed "absolutely".

Click here to read the full report.

  • The pupils conducting the UK party leaders' interviews were from Bannockburn High School, Copland Community School, Corby Business Academy, Lagan College, Ribblesdale School, and St Teilo's Church in Wales High School
  • The pupils conducting the interview with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond were from Bishopbriggs Academy, Shawlands Academy, and West Calder High School
  • The pupils conducting the interview with Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones were fromYsgol Syr Hugh Owen, Ysgol Emrys ap Iwan and John Summers High School
  • The pupils conducting the Northern Ireland interviews were from St Catherine's College Armagh and Bangor Grammar

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