30/06/2011 Question Time


Topical debate from Birmingham with a panel of prominent public figures and an invited audience, chaired by David Dimbleby. The panel includes Philip Hammond and John Denham.

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Tonight, unions and Government face our audience here in Birmingham.


Welcome to Question Time. And on the panel with me here, the


leader of the biggest teachers' union Christine Blower, from the


Cabinet, the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond. Labour's Shadow


Business Secretary, John Denham. The former head of the employers'


organisation the CBI, Richard Lambert and the Guardian columnist,


APPLAUSE Our first question... Well maybe


not such a big surprise. It comes from Hannah Priddey, please. What


message are teachers sending to pupils by going on strike? Richard


Lambert? The first question is why are they going on strike. That is


not the first question, it is what message are teachers sending?


tomorrow will be a tough day at school going back after a day out


is hard. I think that a lot of kids will just not really understand


what it's all about. The issues are complex. I don't think they'll have


a clue about what it's all about. Do you think children will go back


confused by what has happened? may be that some will. It may be


that a lot don't. I think the point is that what we're saying by being


on strike today is we have a genuine concern about public


service. We know from our polling that if we don't do something about


pensions, then quite a lot of young people considering coming into


teaching may not come in. Quite a lot of young people currently in


teaching may consider leaving a pension scheme, which would be very


bad for the pension scheme. Quite a lot of people who are currently in


teaching may simply leave teaching. I say that teaching is a fantastic


job. Those people who are on strike today will have been teaching their


children yesterday. They will be teaching them tomorrow and they


work extremely hard. Will they answer questions put by their


pupils like you have? I There's an issue about balance. You would not


want teachers to be accused of indoctrinating. So it is a biased


view? It is an issue about what it is that teachers may reasonable say


in terms of the political context. I think it is perfectly reasonable,


depending on the age of the children, in the context it is


asked afrpbd the appropriateness of the curriculum in which it is being


offered for teachers to answer questions. Have you given the NUT


guidance? We have not. In terms of the citizenship curriculum, we


could take about the role of trade unions and the right to strike.


Philip Hammond? And of course everybody recognises the right to


strike. I think this action today is premature and will be


counterproductive. Diskuegs are still going on. The -- discussions


are still going on. The trade unions have said they are


productive. They said the Government is engaging with good


faith. So long as they go on, we should not see strike action. The


problem for teachers, frankly, is a good teacher is a tremendously


infor mayive and influential person in a child's live. There is a bond


of trust, which I think you recognise is put under strain when


the teacher is not there for them. Many millions of families would


have had their lives disrupted today, I would say needlessly.


person in the black and white striped shirt? The message teachers


are sending out to children and the country is as public sector workers


they will not let the Government walk over all them and take them


for granted by damaging their pensions and when something


completely unacceptable like this proposed pension reform and like


these proposed terms and conditions is threatening their jobs and


livelihoods.... Are you a teacher? I'm not. Why do you think it is so


unacceptable? Well, because MPs' pensions, they are looking at


getting.... Private sector pensions, the reason they get less is because


they are paid more for what they do. The private sector pension pay is


better.... Simply not true. It's not true now. I think the message


the teachers are sending out is when something like this threatens


them and their children and their grandchildren and the children they


teach and future generations they do something about it. They don't


sit there and let themselves be walked over. They say, "No, we


won't accept this." The man in yellow? Everybody is


talking about teachers. Why are teachers so special? What about all


the other public sector workers? I don't care about teachers. If you


look at the public sector and split the private sector separate now,


what has caused all this problem to happen? Why are all the public


sector workers suffering? High, because of the Government. Why?


What did the Government do? They made the banks crash. They didn't


regulate the banks. He didn't do anything, the Bank of England


governor skham what did he do? People are missing the global


picture. All the politicians want to do is line their pockets. Polly


Toynbee? I should point out he was not the Governor of the Bank of


England. He was on the committee. It has been a successful day. It's


a one day of action, one day of protest. It has focused attention


on this issue. Suddenly, all over the news, every where else, people


are analysing in detail, what is the truth about pensions? It's a


hard truth. Two-thirds of people in the private sector get no pension


at all. That's the real disgrace. It is not that we should race....


APPLAUSE There is a big public, there is a


big taxpayer subsidy for private pensions of over �37 billion a year.


That goes almost entirely to the top 10% of people in the private


sector. Most of the money goes upwards to subsidise people like


the FTSE-100 boardrooms, who have enormous pensions. They do. They


have an average of �3.4 million. You are reading figures there. You


are saying it is subsidised by the taxpayer? Yes, because they get tax


relief. I thought the Government tried to abolish it? They cut it


down a bit. Dramatically. Dramatically. The biggest amount of


public subsidy which goes into private pensions goes to the people


in the top echelons. The idea it is only subsidising the


public sector. They are subsidising in the private sector the very


wealthy. Why this is an issue? It is because people are living longer.


People retiring at 60 can expect to live 10 years longer than somebody


who retired 30 years ago. There are four things you can do. You with


work harder, work longer, pay a greater contribution, accept a


smaller pension or rely on the taxpayer. You have to choose one of


those four. The private sector.... I am not saying they have done a


great job. They have taken three out of the four. What is the


argument against the public sector, the workers paying a bit more and


working a bit longer to reflect the fact their working lives have


changed? As people get older you have to adjust the system. The


system is not broke today. John hut hut's report showed the -- Hutton's


report showed that the national wealth will fall...: There is an


issue about how much the taxpayer has to pay. You have to sit down


and negotiate with people how you deal with this. The problem, if you


look over the last year, is when Phillip says they negotiate in good


faith, they put 3% on to the contribution of every pension


member without any negotiation. That is when people had got a pay


freeze and inflation is at 3-4%. They cut the rate at which pensions


will be updated dramatically, which in the long-term will make a


difference to people's.... Without negotiation. The issue is this, I


think, going back to the original question.... Sorry, can I interrupt


you. The Government's line today seems to be, "We are talking."


have done it without negotiation. What are the talks about? There are


issues to negotiate, like the shift to what is called career-average


pensions, all those issues. These are minor things. The question


started off with the strike, David. I actually think the strike was a


mistake, because I think children lost a day in school. It was not a


day they should have lost. Many parents had to take time off work.


I don't think it was justified. There are talks taking place.Vy to


got to say, the Government has -- I have got to say, the Government has


acted in a way over the past year, in imposing costs and changing


systems and making speeches, saying "This is what the outcome will be."


It has put a question mark over the credibility of those negotiations.


The way to resolve this is to sit down and talk about the future,


sensibly. It is not to have strike action that makes children stay at


home and parents take days off work. The Government, Phillip, has got to


take some responsibility for the way it has handled this over the


past year, which is the reason high so many people voted in favour of


strike action. Thank you. APPLAUSE


Mary Bousted, the leader of the association of teachers and


lecturers, said Ed Miliband's response to this was a disgrace. Do


you think Ed Miliband was a disgrace today? It would have been


nice if he felt he could have supported what we are doing....


APPLAUSE The fact is that John Denham is right. Much of this has


been imposed by teachers, without negotiation. When we say there is


talks going on, it is true that the Government is talking, but it is


not actually listening. APPLAUSE One of the issues we have, is as


John Denham has just said, they have changed the rate, they have


said, we want �2.8 billion, not in relation to, for example, the


valuation of the teachers' pension scheme, because it has not been


done. Any of you who listened to Adam Boulton, you would have heard


this is about a different scheme. The fact is in 2007, we put in


place arrangements for cap and share, so if.... You may lose


people on this. I don't mean the argument, but I mean the


technicalities of pensions. Because the arrangements were put in 2007,


the teachers have to pay more, because the valuation has been done,


they will pay it. We have not had that done. A lot of hands up. We


have heard a lot of argument on the side of the teachers and on the


side of the strike. I want to hear from somebody who takes the other


view, that is to say about the private sector, a lot of hands go


down now. The private sector by comparison. The man in the back.


think the public sector workers today went on strike should take a


few moments to think about the 15,000 people at Lloyds TSB today,


who were made redundant and worry less about the perks of their job


and take some time to worry about the people who'll have problems


putting food on the table next month. Do you think that the public


sector are cushions in terms of their pensions - with the taxpayer


making up the balance? I think in times of austerity, it is important


we take time to reflex and -- reflect and think about what we are


doing to overcome these problems. If that means a large amount of


society have got to make some sacrifices in their pensions, then


what is a justifiable cost. You, Sir? It should be recognised that


pensions in this country are not generous in comparison to Germany,


pensions in this country are miserable. Typically in Germany, I


know that, for instance, academics will retire on 80% of their salary.


It is an entirely different ball game. We have to recognise this


country has been far worse run for 20 years than Germany was.


The problem, the real problem, as Polly Toynbee has said, is actually


that the private sector has withdrawn these pension schemes.


This is a disaster for the country, because these people when they


retire, they have to have a reasonable standard of living. The


fact that teachers and other people working in the public sector do


have some reasonable pension to look forward to is a good thing.


Two wrongs do not make a right. Should the private sector be doing


more? It is not an excuse, it is a fact. If people are living much


longer, defined benefit schemes - which I was fortunate enough to


have - are not affordable and that is why in the private sector, where


there are 23 million workers, there's one million with schemes


that are as good as the public should be taken into consideration.


sight of the porpbtd thing here. The Government is committed to high


The Government is committed to high quality public sector pensions.


They will still by some very considerable margin be among the


best pensions available anywhere in this country. A teacher retiring on


a salary of �32,000, to buy an equivalent pension to the pension


that they will get in the teaching profession would need a �500,000


pension pot if they worked in the private sector. There are very few


people that have pension pots on that scale. So we are not talking


about a race to the bottom. We are talking about necessary action now


to be able to protect these very good quality pensions that we want


to see remaining in the public sector because we understand that


public sector workers regard their pensions as a very important part


of... Hold on. You are right in terms of what we need to do to


solve this problem. There are four things we can do. The fact remains


that when these pensions were devised the cost of providing these


was a lot less due to the fact that people are living a lot longer,


inflation is higher. The value of those pensions has risen


dramatically and the taxpayer is left to foot the cost. One of the


points that I made earlier was that the taxpayer is not left to foot


the cost. Public sector workers are taxpayers themselves. The fact is


that the cost of public sector pensions is set to fall and the


other thing is that younger teachers in teaching have a


retirement age of 65. We have already dealt with the fact that


people are living a bit longer by saying the retirement age will go


up. When I came into teaching, the retirement age was 60. We have


begun to address the issues. might have to pay an extra 3%. It


is still a tiny fraction of the overall cost of providing these


benefits? It is not a tiny amount. What it is is a 50% increase and


you will find... Employers provide 14%? We do. The fact is there are


plenty of young teachers who would not be able to find that omit of


money. The 3% is a -- that amount of money. The 3% is not a figure


based on calculations of the scheme. So if the Government came to us and


said, "We value waited the scheme, this is what you will have to --


valuated the scheme, this is what you will have to pay." You are a


target? That is the case. It is �2.8 billion... You have not


presented this as to do with their pension, you are saying 3% across-


the-board? Christine is making the assertion again that the percentage


of GDP taken by public sector pensions is going to fall. Those


figures are based on the assumption that some of these measures we are


proposing have already been taken. So we need to take these measures


to achieve those figures. What you need to do is sit down and sort


this out in a proper negotiation. That is what we are doing. It would


have been a lot better if a number of things hadn't happened


strike! If you hadn't... Only three unions are striking today. All the


others are still talking to the Government. I think today's action


was a mistake. However, you have got to bear responsibility for some


of the things that the Government have done. We negotiated changes to


the schemes that saved �1 billion in the last year. More needs to be


done as John Hutton's report showed. The answer though is to negotiate


seriously and get an agreement. Do please stop setting everything up


as let's get everybody in the private sector resenting everybody


in the public sector... APPLAUSE A bit more on to the politics of this.


James Laurenson? Ed Miliband says that public sector strikes are a


mistake. Should the trade unions regret their support for him in the


Labour Leadership contest? Yes, well... APPLAUSE John Denham, you


said it was a mistake. Ed Miliband got the leadership by virtue of the


trade unions. Is it something the trade unions should regret? No, of


course not. Why do you think it was a mistake to strike? Because I


don't believe that it was justified to make children lose a day of


school and to make parents make a day off work. I don't. I will say


that clearly. Trade unions that support the Labour Party are none


of the unions involved in today's action and what I saw of the


opinion polls most of the members of the unions that were on strike


today didn't vote for the Labour Party at the last election so this


is a Labour Party issue out there today. Unions affiliate to the


Labour Party because they believe as a Government we are more likely


to deliver good services, create jobs and better working conditions


for the sort of people that they represent. They don't affiliate to


the Labour Party so the Labour Party is a cheerleader on the side


of an industrial dispute. They know very well that in an industrial


dispute we will take the side of the public, that we will always say


you need to resolve the dispute. You always take the side of the


public? Any strike? What does that mean? It means... No strikes? Did


you mean to say that? What it means is we, if you look at any


industrial dispute, we will always say what is the thing we can best


do to help to resolve that dispute and not... Wait, Philip... And not


make it worse? It is incredible... Let's have a little economy with


words. Let me finish. To be clear... Very brief please? It is very


difficult for me to imagine an industrial dispute that would be


helped by the Labour Party coming out and saying we support a strike.


It is not credible to take 85% of your funding from the trade unions


and say that they do not call the shots. If they call the shots...


Hang on... APPLAUSE Does Lord Ashcroft call the shots with you


given the amount of funding he has given to your party? APPLAUSE It is


curious... Individual trade... Sorry, David. It is curious that


they are not supporting the strike. You can tell we have got teachers


here tonight! It is clear they are not supporting the strike if you


say they are in the pockets of the trade unions? The whole country was


talking about the strikes today Ed Miliband pitched up to Prime


Minister's Questions and he did not mention the action today. Hang on.


I don't think strike action is going to help win the argument, it


inconveniences the public, strikes must be the very last resort is


what he said. What is wrong with that? He didn't say anything


yesterday. The man at the very back. I'm slightly confused, John Denham


and Ed Miliband seem to want to have it both ways, they are on the


side of the people, not on the side of the Government or the unions,


where are they? Polly Toynbee? have to remember how important


unions turn out to be for the economy. If you look at what's


happened in the last 30 years, since unions have lost their power,


there's been an extraordinary shift in the distribution of wealth in


this country. What's happened is that people in the middle to bottom


have lost out hugely in terms of income and in terms of wealth to


people at the top. There's been a massive shift. This has been proved


on all of the figures that there are available. That is because if


there is no power at all with employees, if it is all with


employers, the near Liberal experiment is allowed to win, more


money is sucked upwards from the bottom. People at the middle and


the bottom have hardly made any progress at all. We have had a 34%


increase in GDP, the people middle to bottom were almost static. That


is what happens when there is no power whatsoever amongst ordinary


working people. APPLAUSE Richard Lambert? I think the interesting


thing is that unions like UNISON are holding back and they are


saying - and they are saying there is still room for negotiation and


we are ready to go into battle if we feel the need. That is strongly


that that is the right way forward. These are complex issues. It is


very important that a fair settlement are arrived at. To do it


through head-butting - and it is fun to point our fingers at each


other here - but this is serious stuff. Do you agree unions matter?


Maybe they will in the future. have seen a big shift of


distribution of wealth upwards? have seen a shift of distribution


of wealth away from the middle sector. Middle and bottom. Up to a


point. Unions also matter - the good news in Birmingham is the


investment in the car industry couldn't have happened if it wasn't


for the co-operation of the workforce here. The thing that


worries about Prime Minister's Question Time is the Prime Minister


raised it, but he raised it to score a political point. There are


too many people, the Prime Minister, people like yourself who look at


industrial disputes not as a problem to be resolved but as a way


of trying to score political points off the Labour Party. That is one


reason you are not putting the effort you should be into into


resolving this matter. They are on strike. We can't discuss... The man


in the white shirt? I belong, I was in a non-striking union today. I


felt - well, I was supporting what the unions were doing. It is


important that you can strike. That is the ultimate thing. I can


withdraw my labour if I don't agree with what my employer is doing to


me. I don't see how the Government is listening to me, how it is, how


I can express myself in any other way when it comes to that point


where I need to do that. The man at the back? The public sector


pensions are amongst the lowest in the OECD countries. The private


sector pensions we should be raising up to that standard.


man in the blue shirt? I think it sends to the kids a wonderful


message that democracy is alive and well here in Britain. Philip


Hammond? Just pick up on the point about the private sector pensions


being so bad and that the argument that is used constantly by the


Conservative Party about it being unfair to the taxpayer is below -


it is the private sector that should make up the pensions?


would all like to see good quality pensions being offered much more


widely. Richard has made the point that private sector employers have


found that as life expectancy increases and the cost of providing


good pensions increases, they simply cannot afford to do what the


taxpayer has continued to do in the public sector. John Denham spoke


just now about the positive engagement of private sector unions


in the car industry for example. I 100% endorse that. The trade unions


in the private sector in this country have engaged with their


employers, have recognised they all operate in a competitive


environment, their jobs depend on the employers being competitive and


they have improved productivity. In the public sector, the unions have


got to recognise the cost pressures and that the cost pressures on the


taxpayer are also an issue in trying to keep Britain's economy


competitive. We have all got to pull together. OK. Now before we


move on, Christine Blower, you haven't answered the question from


James Laurenson. Ed Miliband says public sector strikes are a mistake,


should the unions regret supporting him for the leadership of the


Labour Party. I'm in a position of being a General Secretary of a non-


affiliated union. I would like to say that one of the things that we


have also done is launch a petition for better pensions in the private


sector and the public sector and indeed a better state pension. We


were looking across the piece today and we support everybody making


sure that we have decent pensions for everybody. Do you think Ed


Miliband is the right person to lead the Labour Party? Given that I


don't... Given your own individual... I don't feel it is


appropriate for me to say who should lead the party to which we


are not affiliated. I would very much have preferred though that he


had been able to say that there is a question about fairness in public


sector unions and a race to the bottom is not the thing to do and


what we need to do is pay attention to the fact that the state pension


is inadequate and we need also to make sure that private sector


pensions are as good as they possibly can be and they are not at


the moment. We must move on. These very contentious issues, if you are


following us on Twitter, go to: You can text us with comments to 83981,


Ceefax Page 155 will show what others are saying and you can see


us on the red button. I must plead with our panel, to make sure we


keep our remarks fairly concise so we can get through a number of


questions. You don't need to blush! I thought you were looking at


Philip. I was looking around the Is being able to stab a burglar one


step too far? This was the comment made by Ken


Clarke, this week. "if an old lady finds an 18-year-old burgling her


house, picked up a kitchen knife and sticks it in him she has not


committed a criminal offence and we'll make that clear." I don't


know how many old ladies pick up knives and stick them into burglars.


I am sorry Ken Clarke has been driven off his position. He had a


splendid idea for how best to prevent crime. Prisons don't make


people better. Labour hugely increased the number of people in


prison for no good reason at a time crime was falling. I wish Ken


Clarke had stuck to his guns and said, prison is not the place, we


want more people out of prison and better, more likely to be


rehabilitated in the community. What about.... APPLAUSE


What about hitting the burglar with a poker if he's in a house? Being


an old lady, if a burglar came in and a burglar came in, you would be


likely to hit them. Yes, you would. Is it one step too far? English law,


as I understand it, has always allowed a right of self-defence.


The trouble is the tests are complicated. What Ken is trying to


do and has promised to do is to put a clear framework around the law


that we already have. In the heat of the moment, when you find that


burglar in your house you don't have time to consult a legal


textbook to find out what you can and can't do. If you are genuinely


acting in self-defence, you are not committing a crime. That's my


understanding of the law. Equally, if the burglar is running away


because you have disturbed him and you decide to stab him in the back


then you probably are. People need to understand the clear


distinctions where they can and can't act. Stabbing somebody with a


knife could be quite dangerous. It could be. In the recent incident


it has proved to be. You are saying that is fine. I am saying a


householder who is genuinely acting in self-defence must have the right


so to act. That is what the English law has always said. All Ken is


trying to do is clarify it so that people can feel safe in their homes,


know when and how they can act without falling on the wrong side


of the law. Christine Blower? Clarke has a colourful to explain


what he's trying to get across, doesn't he? I agree with Polly that


if someone were in the house and someone were seeking to burgle it I


would want to protect myself. The graphic description of sticking a


knife into an old lady does not help! Not in the old lady in the


burglar! That was a graphic way to describe it. The way I understand


the common law is that actually you do have the right to, as it were,


defend yourself and your property. The difficulty is that if someone


is seeking to leave and you stick a knife in them, then that is an


offence. I don't think his intervention has made it very much


clearer today. I think the idea that we may be opening ourselves up


to the sense that it is like being a vigilanty here and everybody


needs a baseball bat under their bed in case someone comes to burgle


them is not a society I want to be in. I am struggling to see the test


of reasonable force and Ken Clarke's pros posed necessary force.


It seems there is no real difference and all he's doing is


just faking a change in the law, in order to appease the Conservative


right. A fake change in the law. APPLAUSE


Philip Hammond whisers in my ear that he -- whispers in my ear that


he bets you are a lawyer. Is he right? Yes. That is a good point.


The reality was that there had been no mention in changing this issue


in the last year. A bill was published which had no changes to


the law. Where did this come from? It came from Downing Street and Ken


Clarke in the last few days. They have got into a terrible mess on


their law and order policy. They decided to cut prison places, not


by looking at how the law works, but to save money. They would going


to have a 50% cut in sentences for rapists. They are cutting police


officers. They got into a complete chaos and lack of sense in their


law and order strategy. They have produced this out of nowhere, to


say we're going to toughen up the law. Of course you are right, the


test in law is there, it is reasonableness. What we do and it


is not the best way to do it, you put the evidence in front of a


judge and a jury. They listen to the circumstances of the individual


case and they make their minds up. Nothing that Ken Clarke might do


about changing this or that word in the legislation is going to


fundamentally alter the way things work. This is a smoke screen for a


Government which has lost control of law and order in so many


different ways. APPLAUSE


The man there. I think that in the Government's haste to save every


penny they are undermining the rights of the victims of the crime.


Ken Clarke's recent comments cover that up, by saying we are behind


the victims you can do what you want to criminal. It is quite a


farce. I don't think John was right this


was pulled out of the blue. There have been cases of people being


arrested for people sticking pokers around the back of burglars' heads.


He is right to say, and make it clear, that this doesn't give


vigilante permission - it does not allow you to bash them. It does not


allow you to shoot them in the back of the head as they run out.


Claefrbg -- Clarke has a powerful - - has a colourful way to describe


The man in the shirt there. lady in orange...: Polly Toynbee.


Sort of orange. That prisons don't work and we should rehabilitate


them in the community. What does work is having them locked up and


having them off the streets. It is safer than not having them on the


streets. Lock them up really. man there in the stripped shirt.


don't think we should be worrying about whether we're actually in the


right or in the wrong when we've got people breaking into our houses.


They should be deciding themselves whether it is right or wrong to


break into our houses. The old lady with the knife may concentrate the


mind. Exactly. This one now from Roshni Barot. After the recent


attack on a well defended hotel in Kabul, is it too early to think


about pulling troops out of Afghanistan?


We had the British Government's plans for withdrawing troops and


then this attack on the hotel, a number of people killed. Suicide


bombers, gunmen, all the rest of it. Is it too soon to think about


pulling troops out, as a result of pulling troops out, as a result of


that? I think we have to recognise that ultimatdly we're not going to


stop ef -- ultimately we're not going to stop every attack or


atrocity through the military presence. The challenge is, as it


has been for some time, to actually have an orderly transfer of power


to the Afghan people, to engage politically where we can, with at


least some of those who we have been fighting. Who will be part of


the future of Afghanistan after we have gone. I don't think actually


that strategy can be blown off track entirely by events as


horrible as horrific or as frightening as we saw last week.


Actually, I think the track on which there is broad cross-party


support in this country is still the right one. It does focus every


body's mind on the scale of the -- everybody's mind on the scale of


the challenge that is there. Roshni Barot, do you agree? I believe


there needs to be a strategy in place. It is too early to think


about withdrawing troops, just because if a hotel of that size and


its security can be breached, then surely there's going to be lots of


other issues that, it's too early to withdraw people. I think it's


not too soon to be thinking about an orderly withdrawal. I think the


purpose of our mission there is getting increasingly unclear to me


and I think to lots of people.... APPLAUSE


British soldiers are still getting killed and we must all grieve for


that. I think that on a mission that has gone on so long, and has


such uncertain policies and such uncertain outcomes, the sooner we


can get plans in shape for a proper withdrawal over a sensible period


of time, the better. I go back to the questioner again. I completely


agree with that, but at the same time all those soldiers who have


gone out there, surely we owe it to them to finish a job they have


started, or else aren't their lives lost in vain? We have 10,000 troops


there. The Americans have 100,000 troops there. Still this terrible


security breach occurred. The mission is clear, we need to pursue


a political strategy in Afghanistan. We need to train and equip the


Afghan Army and police. We, the Brits, are doing a great job in


training the Afghan police., so that they can take over


responsibility for their country. Not overnight, but over a sensible


period of time. If you get a setback like this, right in the


middle of Kabul, a hotel blown up and people, many people killed.


agree with John. We mustn't be deflected from our clear strategy


by these kind of events. They will occur. If you remember, as the


Americans were reducing their presence on the streets in Iraq,


there was a period when there were terrible -- was a terrible sequence


of atrocities, day after day, after day. Eventually the Iraqi forces


have got it under control. Are you saying if there is chaos on the


streets of Kabul, then the withdrawal would be slowed down or


halted? That you are looking to see improvements, as you bring the


troops out? This is a programme over a period of time and this is a


setback, of course, but I don't think... If you have setback after


setback, would you change? There is a commitment to withdrawal troops


over a period of time. Would you stop it if you found the damage was


so great? You would stop it. With 100,000 American troops and other


troops there, we are not able to stop this kind of tragedy occurring,


is simply freezing up and saying, we're not moving anywhere, we are


going to carry on doing what we are doing now, will that solve the


problem? Because we have invested so much we


should carry on. When you talk about orderly withdrawal and you


say we have to do knit a dignified way, all we are doing is trying to


save our faces. We are trying to train the Afghans. That is what


we're trying to do. How long? your view we are pulling out


regardless? I think we should get out soon. The last time I was there,


the British ambassador who was there, he now, he, having supported


the war before, now says we should go. He's the man who really knows.


He's been there a long time. He knows the place well. He is saying


it is time to go. I don't think because a lot of our brave soldiers


have died that is a reason why more should die in order that we can


keep a little dignity by going gradually. It's about keeping


Britain safe. APPLAUSE


Part of what we're doing in Afghanistan, remember, is very much


in our own national interest. Afghanistan is still the


headquarters of what is still a very potent global terrorist


organisation. If we don't deal with them there, we will be dealing with


them here. We need to talk with the Taliban. That's the only answer, a


political solution. We may not like it much but it's the way. History


proves we should never have gone in. We tried it 100 years ago, we


failed T Russians 20 years ago. They failed. We should get out as


soon as possible. No more British soldiers should die there. We


should not be there in the first place.


APPLAUSE Ten years ago we went into


Afghanistan as a peace mission. I can distinctly remember that. It


was distinctly said it was going to be a peace mission. There was not


going to be any aGreg. It seems like Afghanistan is like Iraq. We


have been misled again. What is your view of the question


that was put, that if you've got things still going on in Kabul,


you've got this hotel blown up, it Christine Blower? We should pull


out as quickly as we possibly can. This awful thing has happened while


there are 10,000 British troops there. I don't accept the argument


that because British troops have died and it is regrettable that


they have that we somehow must stay there and "finish" the job. It is


not any longer clear what "finishing the job" means. An


orderly withdrawal in the shortest time possible is what I think is


appropriate. The woman on the left? I'm in agreement with the gentleman


at the back, this is a classic case of "mission creep" and political


fudge. We didn't know what your strategy was when our brave


soldiers went into Afghanistan in the first place and they certainly


the didn't know if you have been watching the programmes on the


television recently. America has just, President Obama has said that


they are going to withdraw their troops. This is the first time that


we could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our American allies and make


exactly the same announcement. APPLAUSE The woman up there? If you


reach negotiated settlement with the Taliban, and then as happened


in Northern Ireland, it is not working, do you go back in? Should


you not stay and sort it out once and for all? Or do you come out


hoping you won't have to go back in? Philip Hammond? We are trying


to leave behind a stable, civil government in Afghanistan with


forces that can keep order in the country. She is saying if you don't


get that? The political deal that is done can be made to stick. I


would like to come back to the point I made before. We are talking


about this as if it is some foreign adventure for its own sake. We are


in Afghanistan because emanating from Afghanistan is a very real


threat to the west and to the UK and the US in particular. If we


were to pull out tomorrow, I have no doubt that Al-Qaeda would be


able to reorganise and launch further attacks on the West Do you


have a Plan B if you come out and Plan A doesn't work? The Irish


police got a 500-pound bomb. Northern Ireland is supposed to be


sorted and calm and peaceful. We are a good way down the road and it


is not. It is not as bothersome as it was. What happens? Are you


prepared to go back into Afghanistan?


John Denham? We cannot say, as you ask us to, yes, we will always go


in every where and sort it out. "sorting it out" is enormously


difficult. What we must not forget is that Afghanistan was the place


where with total freedom Al-Qaeda was able to plan the attacks on the


United States of America. I just think it is inconceivable that the


world could watch the attack on the Twin Towers and say, "We will do


nothing about where the place that Al-Qaeda operated from" and the


soldiers that have been talked of have enabled this country to make


that difference. We owe it to them now to move on because that was ten


years ago. Nobody should say we should never have gone in there in


the first place. How then would we Qaeda? Let's go on to another


question. We have ten minutes left. Lucy Bellingham? Does the visit of


the Chinese Prime Minister this week mean we are prepared to ignore


China's human rights issues? Does the visit of the Chinese Prime


Minister who landed here in Birmingham and went to Longbridge


to the plant that builds MGs which are made here, does this visit mean


we are prepared to ignore China's human rights issues? Christine


Blower? I'm not. Human rights is a very significant issue for us. We


genuinely believe that it is important that we engage


constructively with other countries but also engaging constructively


means if there are human rights abuses, you have to draw them to


the attention of that leader. you do a trade agreement of �1.4


billion with a clear conscience? is hard for me to see how you would


do that if you were not making very clear statements about what it is


to have a free society. So you don't ignore but you don't allow it


to change your behaviour? What I am saying is that it has to be a


precursor that we understand what human rights would look like in


China and we press them to do something about it. You went with


David Cameron to China, Richard Lambert? Yes. What is your view?


think the question is the wrong way round, the question is are we


places too much emphasis on human rights with our discussions with


the Chinese? When Premier Wen was here he was visibly furious at the


Prime Minister's approach on these issues. He made a point of signing


quite small contracts here and buzzing off to Germany and signing


contracts which were ten times the value which has implications for


British jobs. Are you saying that the Chinese Prime Minister


deliberately refused to sign trade deals with us which he was prepared


to sign with Germany because Chancellor Merkel kept her mouth


shut? More or less. The deals that were done here were modest, the


deals that were done in Germany were substantial. What kind of


deals are they? They own Longbridge? In Germany they were


big investments in green technologies. I think, just to


correct a misunderstanding, I think that the Prime Minister was right


to express his views forcefully on human rights. He was right to do


that. I don't think we should say that he didn't. The consequences


are that in his parting press conference the Chinese Premier


spoke very... I thought you began by saying we make too much of human


rights and we lose trade as a result. Isn't that what he said?


What I was saying is in this visit, this week, the issue was that the


Chinese were very upset about the position we took on human rights


which I think the Prime Minister was right to take but it was not


cost-free and it was not the case that had he taken a different view


the outcomes would have been different. Polly Toynbee? We always


have to say the right thing about human rights knowing it will have


very little effect, except perhaps bad effect on our trading


relationships. We have to try, but we also have to know that in our


dealings around the world we are always going to be hypocritical. If


we went about invading every country whose human rights were


being abused, we would be at war everywhere. We can't do that. We


know we always have to be contained by what is possible. I think it is


right that we should stand up to China rather than simply say we are


open for business never mind the consequences. But we should be


aware that we are never going to be all that honest. We can't be that


honest. The woman in the centre? Richard said the Prime Minister did


express his views quite forcefully. The most forcible ways would be to


refuse to trade with China. If you strip it down, by trading with a


country that has such bad human rights abuses we are funding those


abuses and a government that has no regard for the rights of its people.


Would you stop all imports from China? What would you do about


Longbridge? I think really there's too much emphasis placed on


international trade and I know it is important because we should be


looking more at how we can increase trade within our economy? The lady


is deluding herself if she thinks we are funding China. APPLAUSE


idea we are funding China, the truth is that China is funding much


of the West and most of the American deficit. This is going to


be very shortly the world's biggest economy. The idea that we should


deal with it by turning our back on it and somehow that will make the


human rights problem better is ludicrous. We will see change in


China as China gets richer, more engaged with the rest of the world


and what David Cameron was saying on Monday, alongside economic


development must go political and social development and it is a


careful balancing act to engage with China to trade with China for


the good of our own economy as well as to improve human rights in China


but all the while making the point that China has to develop


politically and socially. The woman there? I agree China will be the


biggest economy in the future. We can't ignore the human rights


issues. If... I didn't say we should ignore them. Shouldn't we


liaise with our allies and make it an international problem rather


than standing on our own two feet? It has to be something that the


West and the rest of the world stand up against China. If they are


going to rule the world, we continue ignore the human rights


abuses? What do you think? If you think that you can simply trade


with countries that don't have human right issues, if Gaddafi had


a �1.4 trillion contract, would you be trading with him? We trade with


lots of countries with whom we have very serious human rights issues. I


think the point I'm making is that we need the way to get change in


China will be to draw China more effectively into the world system,


to engage with it and to continue to make our point as - Richard is


right. David Cameron made the point quite forcefully on Monday and the


Chinese were quite offended by it. I think David Cameron got the


balance right. We are engaging with China but we have shown them that


we will not stop making the point about human rights. That is the


right way to do it. We invade some countries because of human rights


issues - Libya for example. What do you make of this question? I don't


think we have invaded Libya but we did intervene because there was


about to be a genocide in the east of that country and yes, there have


been circumstances where you take action to save mass slaughter. On


China, I think the history of this country over the last 20 years has


been pretty good and consistent. We have done two things. We have


consistently argued about trying to bring the Chinese economy and the


Chinese country into the world system whether it is with


international institutions, the World Trade Organisation. We have


said better to have a country that big and powerful as a fully-fledged


global nation and secondly, we have consistently argued often more


strongly an more sharply than other countries about human rights. I


think we should pursue both of those strategies. We cannot ignore


human rights nor can we ignore the size of the China economy. Nor


would we be better off if a country that size with that power were


outside the world system not participating and not engaging.


wouldn't be in any position to stop them doing because they are so


powerful? Bringing the Chinese nation, huge nation with its vast


potential into the world system, which it wasn't 20 years ago, it


was very much an outcast nation, is better for the world because it


encourages that country to engage... My point is could you have kept


them out? With the industry and the growth in China, are you saying


there was a possibility China could have been side-lined? I don't think


- it is a different point. It is a China that was economically


powerful but not taking part with all the responsibilities as a full


world nation with everything that that means they have to sign up to


would have been more difficult for the world than a China where we


have got with their relationship now. The man at the back? I don't


think anybody is trivialising the human rights issues. We do have to


make some concession in that area if we do want to keep living the


standard of living that we do at the moment. Do you think the


Government has got it right? think there has to be concessions.


If the deal is done in Germany and it's on a scale that has been


suggested, given the state our economy is in, possibly we did take


the wrong line. Polly Toynbee? think we did take the right line.


We are always in danger of deluding ourselves about who we are and how


powerful we are and we have yet to recognise that. APPLAUSE One more


from the man two along? What are we trying to say? Is it because China


has this money that this Government would like to have the human rights


can wait for a little longer while if we deal with another country


that is not as rich as China, you would be hard on them. Is that what


you are trying to say? There is no shortage of places in the world


where there are human rights difficulties. It is incumbent upon


us to say that it is important that human rights are important. I for


one would like us to be saying a lot more about human rights in


Colombia where to be a trade Unionist is a difficult and


dangerous thing. We have to stop. Our time is up. We were going to be


in Londonderry tonight but we are now going to be there on 15th


September. Next week, the last of the series, we will be in


Basingstoke. If you want to come to Basingstoke next week, or to


Londonderry on 15th September, this is the number to call: Or go to


Topical debate from Birmingham with a panel of prominent public figures and an invited audience, chaired by David Dimbleby

The panel: Philip Hammond MP; John Denham MP; Polly Toynbee; Sir Richard Lambert, former Head of the CBI; Christine Blower, Gen Sec NUT.

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