26/01/2012 Question Time


Question Time comes from Plymouth, chaired by David Dimbleby. On the panel: Jeremy Browne MP, David Lammy MP, Liz Truss MP, comedian Mark Steel and columnist Melanie Phillips.

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Bishops, bankers and benefits, all on the minds of our audience here


in Plymouth. Welcome to Question With me on the panel, the Liberal


Democrat Foreign Office minister and in the Government, Jeremy


Browne. Labour's former higher Education Minister, David Lammy.


The Conservative MP, Elizabeth Truss. The Daily Mail columnist


Melanie Phillips and comedian Mark Thank you very much. Our first


question tonight from Mary O'Connell, please. Who is more in


touch with the public's view of benefit capping? The bishops or


David Cameron and the coalition? Melanie Phillips, are you for the


bishops? No, I'm not for the bishops. I think the bishops are


completely out to lunch, quite frankly. When you consider that


many of their own vicars earn less than the amount of �26,000 per year


which they say would be a level at which people live in dire poverty,


then you have to ask yourself what on earth is going on. I think it's


very laudable that Mr Cameron's Government is trying to bring some


justice, social justice, to the welfare system to restore the


incentive to work. It's surely only common-sense that if on average you


can get more by being on benefits than going out to work, you don't


have an incentive to work and that it's extremely unfair and unjust


for all those people who are working and who are bringing in


very much less than �26,000 per year to see that money is going on


benefits to people who are not working and then to be told that


they can't possibly survive on that amount. There are many people


working for long hours for very low pay for home �26,000 income per


household is untold riches. They are being completely abandoned.


When did we hear the bishops stand up for the working poor of this


country? Mark Steel, are you with the


bishops, do they occupy the moral high ground? Well, I think compared


to David Cameron they do. You see, I think it can look as if David


Cameron's in touch with the common people, but if you step back for a


moment and see what they're doing here, it's not just a one-off issue,


a one-off cut. This is part of this Government's overall strategy which


is to make the poor pay for a mess that the rich have created.


APPLAUSE That's their overall strategy. Of


course, the people - there's only 67,000 households receive this


level of benefit, most of the money goes on rent, that's why half of


these people live in London where the rents are highest. If you just


consider for a moment when it's posed as being fair and posed as


being in defence, as Melanie says, of hard-working people, you've got


to think to yourself, hang on a minute, in some ways, maybe what


the Government's complaining about is that these people aren't


claiming enough. If these claimants weren't claiming �26,000, but were


claiming �1 million and then �1 million bonus on top of that as


well, instead of the cap being put on it, there would just be a mild


call for them to show some restraint. If they were having


millions of pounds that they were taking out of society and then they


were putting that money in their wife's name and shoving it over to


the Cayman Islands so not to pay any tax, instead of a cap being put


on it... APPLAUSE


Instead of a cap being put on it, then the Inland Revenue would be


meeting them, as they did with many business businessmen before


Christmas and wrote off in one day �25 billion of tax that was avoided.


�25 billion is so much more and therefore what's pernicious about


this argument is it's trying to divide all the different people


who're being hammered. Yes, the working poor are being hammered.


That's how pernicious it is to say, do you know who are taking it, the


people who're even poorer than you. This is what they do all the time,


put up the fees... APPLAUSE Make you pay tuition fees


so that we can protect the working poor. The danger here is that all


the different people they're hammering are all squabbling


amongst themselves over who it is taking it while the rich run off


and get away with it. That's why I think when you step back from this


argument, it looks as if David Cameron is in touch with people but


I really don't think he is. APPLAUSE


The woman there? Surely what the bishop was saying


is that we should be protecting the children. The children don't decide


whether their parents go out to work or whether they stay home and


claim benefits. Surely we should be thinking about them and not whether


we should be going after these people that we've decided don't


deserve money. APPLAUSE


Jeremy Browne, you are a Liberal Democrat. Paddy Ashdown, who used


to lead your party, would agree with that lady there and said this


was completely unacceptable. Is he right or wrong? I think he was


wrong and I support the benefit cap and I support it for two reasons.


The first is it won't have escaped the attention of people in the


audience that Britain has an absolutely colossal budget deficit.


We are borrowing, as a Government, over �400 million every single day.


�400 million a day. That is money that you, in this audience, and


your children will be paying back for years to come. We have to get a


grip on that situation. Mark Steel says you could have got a grip by


not allowing people to get away with not paying tax? We have to get


a grip on that situation. Welfare is the biggest single item of


Government expenditure and we can't exempt welfare payments and hope to


have any chance of balancing the budget of this country and we need


to do that in all our interests. This is my second point, perhaps


the biggest point. We do need to have some transitional arrangements.


I don't think you can suddenly change people's circumstances from


one day to the next. But, if we had a balanced budget, if we didn't


have a problem with the deficit, I would still support this benefit


cap and the reason is... transitional measures are what


Paddy Ashdown wants and you say he was wrong? This is for me... Hang


on a second, that's what he said? think he's wrong to oppose the


position of the Government's position. There is a moral issue


which Melanie touched upon which is, if you go up the road to my


constituency in Taunton, there are a lot of households who earn a lot


less than this proposed cap. They work full-time often in low paid


unglamorous jobs, working nights in supermarkets for example. They have


to make sacrifices, they can't always live in the part of town


that they would like to and I think it's unreasonable for people to be


earning more or to be having more household income as a principle


when they are not in work than people in work who're earning and


taking it home to their houses. APPLAUSE


Thank you. The man at the very back in the blue shirt?


Yes, you mentioned people in Taunton not earning that much, but


I wonder how many people are claiming benefits in Taunton would


be receiving this top limit because it's been talked about that


actually lots of people will find it very difficult to get housing


and there'll be crowding fam of families into smaller rooms and


accommodation, a return to the tenement days, that's my fear of it


-- crowding families into smaller rooms.


The woman there with the spectacles? In the West Country,


�26,000 is a lot of money. I have to be earning �35,000 a year to be


in the same position and there are a lot of people I know who'd love,


David, to take home �26,000 a year. So when you start talking about


this, I whole heartedly do agree with the �26,000 cap.


OK. And the woman here in the third row? Returning to the question over


who was more in touch with the people, the bishops or the


coalition government, it seems that a vast proportion of the electorate


are very in favour of some reform to the welfare system and if the


coalition Government is actually making steps to do something to


reform the system, it surely shows the coalition government are the


ones in touch with the public. APPLAUSE


David Lammy, your party's also in favour of a cap on benefits, isn't


it? Yes. So you are with the Government? No, no, no, I'm with


the bishops. But they are against the cap? The bishops' job is to


scrutinise this policy. That is what they are doing. It's a bad


policy. In my constituency, one of the poorest in London, �1,750 for a


bed -- three bedroomed flat. Were going to be moving people from


Inner London to outer London. I'll tell you what we are going to get,


something similar to Paris, a suburban ring of the very poorest


in overCrowded Houseing that will lead to lots of problems in the


year ahead and of course it's the bishop's job to challenge that.


What happens to the churn in large families that find themselves


virtually on the streets or in overcrowded, as the gentleman said,


tenemented buildings? That's going to cost all of us a lot more than


the saving that the Government are going to make. That's why the


bishops are right to challenge this. You say your party, and it's the


official line, is that you are in favour of it, what is it?


prices should be regional. Prices in London are higher than prices in


Hull. That's not rocket science, it's obvious. People in work


shouldn't be receiving less than those out of work and claiming


benefit, but you've got to get this right, you have got to get into the


detail. This slapdash idea also that people receiving Housing


Benefit are somehow all scroungers is just wrong. Most of the people


on Housing Benefit are there because they can't get employment.


They're part of the 2.68 million people in Britain currently


unemployed. APPLAUSE


Elizabeth Truss? Well, I think the issue is that it's not


compassionate to leave families on benefits for year after year. What


we have is, we have second and third generations of families on


benefits which have been left by successive Governments. I think the


bishops have got it wrong because compassion is about makes those


work less households households with work. The lady in the audience


talked about children, but children do much better if their parents are


working. What the Government is doing is, it's taking active


intervention with those families getting those people back into work.


At the moment, we are wasting a huge amount of talln't from people


who're capable of working who're capable of being trained up --


talent. We need to start competing with other countries and getting


those people back into work. At the moment, benefits are a trap because


it's difficult to get out of benefits if you find that you are


earning less when you are going into work, rather than being on


benefits. In response to David's point, there are people in my


constituency who get up at five in the morning to commute into London


because they can't afford to live in London. You know, there are huge


amounts of people who don't have the privilege of having any kind of


home anywhere near London but their job is there. So I think we have to


think about those people as well. I'm very worried about the idea of


a regional cap for that point of view.


Members of the audience now. The woman on the right?


I don't agree with the �26,000 cap because each family's household is


different and it's the families circumstances that are different.


In Plymouth, we have some of the lowest wages but the biggest


increase in housing costs in any city in Britain. Also, going back


to the lady's point on the panel, I don't agree with that, necessarily


that children for familys that are working are better off because they


might work 24 hours seven days a week and not see the kids, they go


to breakfast and after school clubs, you know, where's the interaction


there if they are working all the hours they've got to?


The man in the white shirt? It's great to have a Government that's


tackling this issue rather than the previous Government who let it get


out of control. Gadd to tackle the issue? To have a Government that's


tackling the issue. The man in the checked shirt? It's ironic that


Labour can criticise policy when Labour have no policy. We are in


this situation in the first place because of Labour's deficit and it


was their Chancellor who claimed to Who is going to get the money? Who


is getting the money in housing benefit? Slum landlords, on the


whole, in many parts of the country. What we need, and Ken Livingstone


is proposing this in the London elections, his rent control. That


is what we need. Not private landlords profiteering from the


poorest in the country. We need rent control, but I suspect neither


of these two will mention that. They don't want to regulate the


landlords. They want to regulate the poorest people in our country.


What the hell is going on with the Labour Party? This year so far they


have said they are against the cuts but they do not want to reverse


them. They have so they are against public sector pay restraint, but


now they want to keep it. -- they had said. And they have said they


are in favour of a benefit cap but they are voting against it. Labour


need to ask themselves when they will get a leader who is a credible


Prime Minister who can put credible policies in front of the British


public. Shaun Leavey Government's idea of compassion should be


creating more jobs for young people and unemployed. -- shore leave. I


have not heard anything from the Lib Dems or Conservatives like the


Labour five-point plan for jobs. I am not sure where that is coming


from. This Government has created a record number of apprenticeships to


get young people into work. No, you have not. It was 250,000


apprenticeships when we left office. And it is now 400,000. That is not


a record number when there are 1 million unemployed on the dole. It


is complacent. Youth unemployment started rising in 2004. It is not


complacent. We are taking action. The woman on the back row. We are


forgetting that benefits are already means tested. It is a


figure that the Government says that people need to live off. So


what is the Government saying? That they are going to give people less


than what they believed to live off? People who take the side of


the bishops in this discussion seemed to be giving the impression


that what is being proposed is that benefits are going to be taken away


from people and they will be left destitute. All that is being


proposed is that benefits are capped at 26,000, and that it is


considered wrong for any household to earn on benefits more than the


average wage. No one is saying people should be deprived of


housing benefit or child benefit. All that is being said is that the


accumulated total coming into a household should not, in all


justice and because of the disincentive effect on working,


should not exceed the average wage brought in by people who are


working. And all of the discussion on the opposing side seems to


ignore the fact that we are talking about people, as has been said also


here, who are working for very, very low pay, and as someone said


over there, all families are different. Of course. People get


benefits according to how many children they have. But what about


the person who is bringing in one wage who has four or five children?


No one seems to care about that person. It is the same thing. Every


family is different, but why are only households on benefits


supposed to be different, that we are supposed to care about the


differences? Why is no one talking about the working poor? We will


move on to another question, also about money. If you want to join in


You can see every rude comment that has been made about the programme


as it goes a long, which we cannot see because we are recording it as


it goes out. The news tonight that RBS has decided that Stephen Hester


will get just under �1 million in shares as a bonus is behind the


next question. Is the Government doing enough to address the


excessive bonuses of the finance sector? David Lammy. No. This is a


man that already has a salary of �1.2 million. And then he gets a


nice top up that takes it over �2 million. And we own this bank.


Shareholders made this decision and the Government is the biggest


shareholder around the table. David Cameron has talked a good talk


about doing something about this but he has done absolutely nothing.


There should be a payroll cap for bankers' bonuses. We should be


publishing the ratios of not just the chief executive officers of


these companies, but the very poorest, those on the shop floor


that are barely making the minimum wage. And we absolutely should be


putting employees on the boards of these banks and big business, who


seemed oblivious to the hardship that we see across the country. It


used to be that you would expect someone like this to be happy with


a knighthood at the end of their service. Why do you need �900,000


on top of your salary? It is embarrassing, it is a disgrace, and


David Cameron should do something Jeremy Browne. You would not guess


from what David just said that the pay arrangements for Stephen Hester


were set up by the last Labour Government, and that the bonus


arrangement, the bonus pot for RBS has gone down since his Government


got in, compared to under the last Labour Government when Gordon Brown


was Prime Minister. Are you saying his bonus is a contractual


necessity? The contractual arrangement, as I understand, was


set up in 2009, when nationalisation took place, when


Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and Alistair Darling was Chancellor of


the Exchequer. I want people to start up businesses, create wealth,


create jobs. If people are watching and are inclined to start the


business, go and do it. If you make a lot of money, I am delighted. I


do not mind people who run big international companies making a


lot of money because sometimes they are doing complicated, difficult


jobs with a great amount of skill. And if Wayne Bridge, the Manchester


City 4th choice left-back and get paid �1 million a year, somebody


who runs a big company well can also justify a high salary. But


there are two areas I have big problems with. One is the crony


capitalism, the cosy capitalism which is, you scratch my back and


I'll scratch yours, we will sit on each other's remuneration


committees and decide what chaps like us ought to get paid in order


to have the right lifestyle. Vince Cable and the Government are


completely right to take measures to get to grips with that. Labour


never did that in 13 years in office. My second point is where


I'd basically agree with what David was just saying, which is that


there is a question of honour. Even if there is a contractual


opportunity for him to have a bonus, it does not mean he has to accept


it. He is already being paid more than �1 million a year. His total


package now means he gets paid in about three days' work a soldier


serving in Afghanistan, risking his life, gets paid in a whole year. He


should reflect on that. He is effectively a public servant in a


bank which is almost complete the owned by us, the tax payers, and I


think he needs to think like a public servant who has a duty to


his country and not just to his own wealth. You are saying Stephen


Hester should turn down the bowlers he has been offered? No one is


forcing him to take it. If Stephen Hester wants to leave RBS and set


up a fantastic business, let's say in Plymouth, which ends up


employing 2000 people and makes him an extremely rich man, great, go


and do it. If he is so brilliant I have no problem with him going to


do that. But he is working for a company which is 56 owned by the


taxpayer, and I think he has to think like a public servant, not


like somebody who is there to line his own pocket. To pick up the


point that David Lammy made, could the Government not used their power


as shareholders representing all of us to deny him the bonus in the


first place? Because, according to what we are told, the decision made


has to be put before the shareholders before it is agreed.


The RBS bonus pot, or that I know is that it is lower this year than


last year, and it was lower last year than it was the year before,


and it is lower under this Government than it was under the


Labour Government. Not quite what I was asking. I know. I have made my


position completely clear, which is that I think he has a moral


obligation which he has failed to discharge. Elizabeth Trusts, do you


agree? I do. Both he is essentially a public servant. It is 83% in the


public sector. I think we have seen too many organisations in the


public sector, including the BBC where the director general is paid


650,000, Network Rail, which is largely funded by the public sector.


We have a public sector pay freeze at the moment and it would be an


honourable course of action for him to take. If he gets RBS into a


position where it can be sold back and make the public sector money


when it is sold back into the private sector, that is the time


for him to get a bonus on the basis of performance. But I wanted to


reply to David's point about ratios. The problem with having ratios


between the highest and lowest paid is that it gives companies


incentive to outsource lowest skill parts of their business to places


like India to improve their ratio. It gives them an incentive to gain


the system. I think what we need internationally is better


competition. Shareholders should take control of executive pay and


performance. I am a shareholder through the various pension pots


that I have, and I want the opportunity to improve the


recruitment for top executives. I do not think it is meritocratic


enough. I do not think the best people get the best jobs. I want


more transparency because I think we have had a bloated culture up


here and in the US. If you look at the price of Indian bankers and


Indian company chief executives, they get paid a lot less. We may


lose out internationally. Stephen Hester is getting short shrift.


Would you agree that he should take his bonus, or should he say no


thanks? I think it would be very nice if he said thank you and no


thanks. I think it would be the morally decent thing to do. I very


much agree with what has been said, but with the country owning 83% of


RBS, he should be regarding himself as a kind of public servant. There


are a lot of people who have lost huge amounts because of what


happened at RBS. They have not got their money. There is something


really quite disgusting - forget the amount for a moment - there is


something disgusting about someone taking a large bonus when the


people who have been the victims of what happened at RBS still have not


been properly compensated. But the question was broader than about


Stephen Hester. The question was whether the Government is doing


enough to address, to curb executive pay. I have to say, I am


a little concerned about what I think is a kind of lynch-mob


mentality that has grown up at the moment about bankers. Bankers did


bad things, for sure. But they are being made scapegoats. There were


three sets of people in this calamity - there were the bankers,


there was the Government that failed to regulate, and there was


us, who actually all borrowed as if there was no tomorrow. And if it is


the case that people should not only be rewarded for success but


punished for failure, what about all the Government ministers who


have lost billions and billions of pounds of our money, just poured


down the drain, the Public Accounts Committee regularly tells us how


many billions are wasted on IT calamities, huge amounts of money.


Should ministers lose all of their pay? Once one goes down this road,


one is into a very difficult territory. I am concerned about the


crudity of the feeling of vengefulness towards bankers. I do


think there should be better regulation... But Stephen Hester


has done nothing wrong, has he? He has just helped to save a bank,


hasn't he? He has not saved the bank yet. You say he should not


have his bonus. I think where the bank has yet to discharge its


obligation to recompense the people who have lost from what happened to


the Royal Bank of Scotland, then the person who is at the head of


that should be seen to be cognisant of that fact and not seek this


enormous bonus. In all of this talk about the need for austerity and so


on there is one layer of people who have become much wealthier over the


last year. The directors of the top 100 companies in the FTSE 100 in


this country have seen their salaries increase by 49%. It is


extraordinary that we have all of this from people who go, what about


the working poor, we have to attack benefits because of the working


poor, and yet they do not bother about his enormous wealth


redistribution that goes towards the very rich. -- this enormous


wealth redistribution. One of the saddest things, when I hear David


he sounds brilliant and I think, I would vote for you. And then when


it comes to being in the Labour Party, the party as a whole manages


to be an organisation that completely refutes its whole


rationale, because the institution that it is is an opposition, and


yet it has ceased to be an opposition. Instead, it agrees with


pretty much everything the Government has done which is why


Jeremy is able to poke fun in that way. That is a terrible shame. I


think if David and the Labour Party were able to stand up for the mass


of people against this tiny bunch of very rich people, I think the


country might be going in a APPLAUSE


The woman there in red? Yes, I agree with you, Mark, you think


this is about an issue of general growing inequality in the world in


general. We are rewarding people for their productivity, for their


increase in GDP and their contribution to that. We need to be


asking, what is that GDP doing, because if it's just people


accumulating wealth, taking it offshore, how is that translating


into well-being which is what economics should be about. As a


country, we need more of a debate about what we mean by economic


growth and what it's doing for the well-being of our people.


APPLAUSE Thank you. The man in pale blue at


the very back? If David Cameron told me as a civil servant that I


have to accept less disposable income in 2015 than I had in 2009,


why can't he pick up the phone to this gentleman and tell him to sort


it out? And the man behind on the very back row? The rhetoric from


this Government and the previous Government was that people would


only be rewarded for success. The last time I looked, the Royal Bank


of Scotland was posting losses, they were making thousands of


people redundant, their share is at a penny level. Where is the success


in that and high should he get a bonus for failure?


APPLAUSE. One more point if we can get to the


woman on the right there? Surely, when we stop paying the price for


this monumental mess-up is when the bankers should get their bonuses


back. When it's all over? Yes. right. Let's go on. We are over


half way through the programme. David Matthews has a question for


us on a different topic. Is Richard Branson right in saying drug users


should not go to jail? Richard Branson, Sir Richard Branson, has


been giving evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee is is


inquirying for the first time in a decade into drugs and his line is


that people using drugs should not go to jail but should be treated


quite differently. Elizabeth Truss? I don't think he's right. I do


think drug users should go to jail. But, I think the problem is that


too often our jails are full of drugs and actually they create a


breeding ground for people who have drug addiction. So what we need to


do is improve what goes on in our prisons. We need to make them


working prisons so people get in the habit of a working life, we


need to make sure that they are completely drug free, otherwise all


we are doing is exacerbating the problem. Unfortunately, drugs have


become a way of life in many of our prisons and we need to change that.


So you are not in favour of decriminalisation? No, I'm not.


David Lammy, are you? No, because I think if you are living on an


estate riddled with crack cocaine or heroin and there may well be


users selling as well, I'm afraid you do want to see jail time, so I


can't support Richard Branson in his overall call. But I do suspect


that Richard Branson is also concerned about treatment and


better treatment and resources for that treatment and it's clear to me


that we do need to do better in Britain in relation to those issues.


Are you in favour, the woman there? Me, yes. For certain things. Both


the panellists who've answered so far have made a very clear link


between drug use and antisocial behaviour and non-working and being


unemployed. I think there's a very big difference between people who


maybe occasionally smoke a bit of pot and people who inject heroin.


There should be a difference made between the two and not all drug


users lumped in together because I just don't think that's not right.


Would you like it not to be a criminal offence for instance not


to smoke pot? Yes. You would like that not to be an offence? Yes.


man in the checked shirt? Yes, I come plaitly agree with what he


said. Richard Branson? Yes, completely. If they were to


legalise all drugs, for example, tomorrow, I'm pretty sure that


everybody here would still not go out to a store and buy some


heroined -- heroin. The amount of money spent on keeping people who


use the drugs in prison could then be used on people to help them get


off the drugs, rather than just sticking them in a place where they


could then use in that prison as well.


It's still really readily available in that place.


The woman here? I wouldn't agree to the extent of


Richard Branson of not putting drug users in prison. But I think that


the previous Government have really failed within their view that


prisons actually work. The best thing, in my opinion, would be to


find a way of reforming the attitude and the behaviour of drug


abusers to educate them properly. When putting them in prison may not


even do anything for them at all and there are a lot better reasons


for them to actually be there. OK. Jeremy Browne, you put yourself


forward as a liberal on a whole lot of social issues. Are you a liberal


on this issue? I will come to that. Did he say users, dealers or


traffickers? Did he definitely say users? Decriminalising users?


isn't an automatic presumption at the moment that users will go to


prison. There are quite a lot of people who're not in prison who are


on drug rehabilitation programmes, on substitutes for heroin, for


example. They're not criminalised, despite it being known to the


authoritys that they use drugs, so that it seems to me, is the


existing situation. In terms of the wider point, look, we have more


people in prison in Britain than we've ever had before in our


history. You get people in prison, sad, mad, bad people in prison. I


would rather that a higher proportion of the people were bad.


I know it's crude and a simplified way of putting it, but there are


people who end up in prison because they have all kinds of other


difficulties in their lives, because they've fallen into


difficult circumstances. It might make society feel good that those


people are no longer in circulation, but it doesn't actually achieve


very much. I would much rather those people were getting some sort


of specialist care, rehabilitation, treatment, whatever their


requirements are, and the people who're a genuine threat to people,


that's where the priority should lie in terms of people going to


prison. So you are in agreement with Branson in principle? Well, I


am generally liberal and I go so far as to say libetarian. But uem


not an absoluteist. I don't go for a clamour of drugs to be sold in


shops, so I'm not somebody who thinks that we should have come


plaitly liberalised drug laws. man in the third row? When you


listen to Richard Branson, he uses very strongly his evidence of the


way that drugs have been managed in Portugal and the huge success rate


they've had there. Basically, if you got caught with drugs, you


weren't sent to the police station, you were sent to a health centre to


try to rehabilitate you and stop it becoming a problem. He marks this


out with a huge level of success in Portugal. I think that's what he's


trying to emmate late. Do you agree with him? I do -- emulate. It's too


simplistic. I am a pharmacist and dispense methadone every day. I can


actually see that the drug dealers have much less power because of the


services that we provide. There's also very serious cases recently


where women had to turn to prostitution just to get the money


to buy methadone or heroin and providing good Public Services cuts


out drug dealers and reduces public, reduces crime. You would like a new


approach, would you, the easing of penalties? What Branson's said is


far too simplistic and there's far too much prison overcrowding which


is very expensive for the country anyway. In comuck terms, were


basically helping the social situation by providing a service of


supervised supply of methadone -- economic terms.


The woman in front of you there, yes? I for one thank Richard pran


son for bringing this up in the public agenda again -- Branson.


Addiction by its nature is very complex and we should have


difficult discussions about what works well for those who suffer


from substance misuse, whether it's drugs or alcohol per say.


Thank you. The man there in the purple tie?


Whether it's a criminal offence or not, it's a mute point, with our


police forces being scaled back, there's going to be nobody out


there to catch them as criminals anyway? Mark Steel? Well, if people


are in a right mess with drugs, if they're heroin addicts on the


streets and they're jacking up and everything, their lives are a


complete mess, you shouldn't put them in prison. You wouldn't bang


up a schizophrenic. David's wrong we he uses the example about the


estate, send these people to jail because look at the crack dealers,


you would want to send them to jail, but they don't go to jail, it


hasn't worked. The current method of just say no and we must put up


this barrier against all drug drugs and not even listen to it and so on


clearly hasn't worked. If you listen to almost anybody who works


in the area of drugs, like the man at the back there, almost anybody


who's close to the problem will say the same, that just criminalising


it simply doesn't work. I have to also add that the most disturbing


part of this story for me is that I find myself agreeing with Richard


Branson and I find that a little bit unsettling.


We'll see if you agree with Melanie Phillips as well? Melanie Phillips?


Oh, I think not. This is completely bonkers. The idea that our jails


are full of drug users is false. Sir Richard seems to think this is


true, I don't know what planet he's living on. The vast majority of


drug related offend, in jails are dealers and general Lynn quite big


dealers, people who deal death and destruction to our young. Richard


Branson is dangerously wrong. For example, he's so dangerous, he's


persuaded some of these good people in the audience that Portugal,


since it decriminalised drugs, has had great success. The very


opposite is the case. Sir Richard is drawing on one flawed report,


much more authoritative data shows that since Portugal decriminalised


drugs, drug use there has gone up, the number of people using drugs


has gone up, the number of homicides related to drug use has


gone up by 40% and drug related HIV AIDS and hepatitis C is up and is


now eight times the rate in Portugal as it is in other EU


countries. The stpact Sir Richard thinks we have a failed war on


drugs -- the fact is. If only, we don't have a war on drugs. We have


a war on drug laws. For years, our policy has drifted away from law


enforcement towards what's called yuef mistically harm reduction,


which is half way to legalisation - - euphamistically. Signals are put


out by well meaning people who're naive and easily led betrillion


dollar campaigns to subvert and undermine the UN drug conventions


which commit countries to try to eradicate drug use and instead to


legalise. There has been a procession in Britain of useful


idiots of whom Suhr Richard Branson is but the latest who've been used


as front men for this pr Nish shus campaign. Every single argument


they use is false -- pernicious. They say if you legalise drugs, you


will get rid of crime and the black market. 20% of tobacco is in the


black market. The only way you will get rid of crime related to drugs


is if you make all drugs free completely and available to


everybody. That is the only way you will get rid of... Is that what you


are advocating then? I know you would like that, but let's not go


there for the moment. All right, all right. Would you have an


automatic presumption that somebody who was a drug user, even if they


were in the terrible state that Mark described, that they would go


to prison, rather than have medical treatment? No, I would not say drug


users should go to prison, I very much approve of treatment, but the


best way you get people to have treatment is that you use the law.


In Sweden, it flirted with liberalisation, their drug use went


up completely. They criminalised use in order that people are then


made to have treatment. I think we My understanding is that the vast


majority of drug-users who are in prison are not there because of


their drug use but because they have turned to criminal activity,


theft or prostitution in order to get money to buy the drugs. It


seems to me that the biggest issue is getting appropriate treatment


for those people, ideally while they are in prison or immediately


they come out. I think some of the comments have completely missed the


point of where the real issues are. Let's take another question. Wendy


Milne. Are considering there is no evidence of Iran having anywhere


near the number of nuclear weapons that Israel has, will our


Government back Obama if he decides to attack Iran? Jeremy Browne, you


are a Foreign Office minister, what is your view? I am probably the


only person on the panel who has lived in Iran. I know a little bit


about the country. It is an amazing country in lots of ways, an ancient


civilisation with lots of very talented people, doctors, academics


and others. They should be a very successful country. But the fact of


the matter is that they are a very threatening, pernicious regime in


the most unstable part of the entire world. And it is a genuine


threat to the security of the Middle East, and by extension a


threat to us, if Iran has nuclear weapons, or sparks some sort of


nuclear arms race in that part of the world. Do you think it is not a


threat that Israel has nuclear weapons? That is a separate point.


That was her question. In case people think that somehow Iran


should not be treated as a category which should concern us, it really,


really should concern us. It is the only country I am aware of that is


actively making threats to obliterate other countries. It


sponsors terrorism not just in the Middle East but recently in America.


We have just had to close our embassy because the government


sponsored protesters, putting our own staff at risk in that country.


It is an extremely serious situation. It is a country where


people are routinely tortured, they execute children and pregnant women.


It is a very dangerous situation. We do not want a war with Iran.


That is why we have this package of proposals at the EU this week. In


passing, what a good example of working constructively with other


EU countries to magnify and project our own foreign policy, a great


success. We are seeking... Do not gesture at me. Just answer one


point on this. I want to put a supplementary question. We want to


put the pressure on to make sure the Iranian regime come to their


senses and we do not get to that situation. But what account do you


take of the fact, as she put it, that Israel has many more nuclear


weapons and other countries around the world have many more nuclear


weapons and there is no evidence of Iran having anywhere near that


number? What accounts do you take of that? We know there has been a


gradual growth of nuclear weapons since the Second World War,


including Britain, for instance. Well, we don't know with the


certainty with which you have just stated it, Israel's position. But


Iran have made a fundamental international undertaking. They


have signed the treaty is not to develop nuclear weapons. They are


telling us at the moment that they are not developing nuclear weapons.


We do not want to stop them having civil nuclear power. They are


perfectly entitled to have that. But for the reasons are just


explain, including their stated desire to obliterate other


countries, and their active sponsorship of terrorism, it is a


very serious matter whether Iran acquires nuclear weapons. We do not


want the conflict but we do have an obligation to the people across the


Middle East and to people in this country and across the wider world


to try to make sure that a very dangerous regime does not


destabilise the most unstable part of the world. So would you back


Obama, who said he takes no options of the table to achieve the goal of


Iran preventing getting a nuclear weapon? That is the position of the


British Government as well but we do not want to get to that stage.


David Lammy, when you were in Government, your Foreign Minister,


Jack Straw, said not only is it inconceivable that there would be


bombing of Iran but the prospect of it happening was also inconceivable.


Would you agree? I do not want to speculate on what is conceivable or


not. But I think that clearly Iran having nuclear weapons would hugely


destabilise the Middle East. I would be deeply, deeply


uncomfortable with any unilateral action in relation to Iran, and I


am pleased that so far this is being done through the process of


the UN and the European Union. But I do also think that for people of


my age, who grew up in an era where it seemed the whole Western world


was concerned with nuclear disarmament, it is very sad that we


seem to be seeing proliferation and not a discussion about how we can


withdraw from nuclear weapons per se. War is a terrible thing in all


circumstances, but when it comes to protecting this country against


things like terrorist attacks, the British public see things put in


place like not being able to take liquid onto a plane without putting


grip -- in a plastic bag, so how come they trust the Government to


protect them against more serious damage? -- how can they trust the


Government? And do you think they should, if the Americans decided to


take action against Iran, do you think the British Government should


support them? I disagree with war in any circumstance.


I am tired of the same old rhetoric that I heard about weapons of mass


destruction in Iraq. Are we going to be told the same lie over and


over? It is nonsense sabre-rattling every time. Well, the IAEA and


virtually every Western Government believes that Iran is racing to


develop a nuclear weapon. It is behaving entirely as if it is. It


is boasting that it is. It is hiding its uranium, some of its


uranium manufacturing centrifuge Best in a very deep mountain, very


deep in the mountain so that it cannot be bombed. To come back to


the question that Israel has nuclear weapons, what's the problem


with Iran, that is a terribly confused cemetery which I think is


very dangerous. As has been said, Israel does not ever acknowledge


that it has nuclear weapons, but let's assume that it does. It does


for one reason alone, to protect itself against the threat of


genocide, against countries such as Iran. Iran is threatening genocide


against Israel virtually every week. And it means it. You are dealing


with Iran with people who are not rational, people who believe that


if they provoke the a pop -- the Apocalypse, the End of Days, they


will bring to earth the Messiah or. So they are in the business of


provoking an apocalypse. It does not matter if it -- to them that in


a nuclear exchange they may lose half of their own country. It does


not matter. This is the mentality you are dealing with. And the


threat is to all of us. It is extraordinary to think, since 1979


when the Iranian Islamic revolution happen, from that moment, the


Iranian regime declared war upon the West. Since then, large numbers


of Western interests and people have been attacked by Iran. I think,


personally, there is no major terrorist atrocity in which Iran


has not had hand. It was Iranian roadside bombs that were blowing up


our troops in Iraq. Melanie, I am going to have to ask you to bring


the remarks to a conclusion. Just on one point, do you believe this


British Government should back Obama if the Americans decide to


attack Iran, willy-nilly? Bombing Iran is the most appalling prospect,


because it will possibly unleash terror, it will unleash thousands


of rockets upon Israel. Yes or no? But the alternative is worse. A


nuclear Iran would paralyse the West, would mean nuclear terrorism


in our cities. Mark Steel. I wonder if people like you, Melanie, and


people in the Government that are going along this road, I wonder if


at any point you sit around and think, if only there was a


precedent in recent times for us going to war, invading a country on


grounds that we thought it had weapons of mass destruction, we


might be able to... We might be able to possibly learn from that,


to see whether it had gone well or not. And the nonsense... When both


you and Jeremy start talking about the obligation we have two people


in the Middle East, as outsiders, to going and try and sort things


out and help, how do you think that looks? I will tell you what most


people in the Middle East will think immediately. Babel thing, we


have an appalling regime - it is an appalling regime - but what about


Mubarak, he was appalling. How did we deal with him? We sold him


weapons and made him a friend. Gaddafi, he was pretty ropey, how


did we deal with him? We sent Tony Blair to pose in front of cameras


smiling. The Saudi Arabia, not the nicest country... Again, we have


got the point and I have to curtail this. Ma, you are absolutely right,


there is a precedent, it is the 1930s when this country was in to


appeasement... These are the same things you said before we invaded


Iraq. You would have been saying the same thing in the 1930s.


think example is Libya, which was not started all led by the US. We


should look at the other countries who stand to lose out from the


Middle East becoming unstable, such as China and India, we import a lot


of oil from Iran. I think we need to be looking for a more pan-


national solution, putting more pressure on police actions. All of


those countries need to be involved in the solution. I think it is


dangerous carrying on with this idea that we still have won global


superpower. We do not. We have a changing world and it is better if


we act in Coalport. That is why the Libyan campaign was successful,


because we had the support of the Arab League in mounting a campaign.


A couple of points from the audience. I would say, yes, we


would do whatever America wants. You think we should. I do not think


we should, but we would. We just do whatever America wants. The woman


in red with spectacles. How can we criticise a country for having


nuclear weapons when we have them ourselves? Two wrongs do not make a


right. And you. How are we meant to cope if we do follow Obama when the


Government keeps cutting the cost of the army and the armed forces?


One more point from the man in the blue shirt. What concerns me is


whether we have the capability to take the fight to Iran. Have we got


the capability now? All right, you, and then we must stop. I was


thinking, if Iran is like Iraq and sitting on how oil, then yes, we


ought to attack them. We have just voluntarily decided to stop buying


any royal from them. Just because they both start with the same


letter and are in the Middle East, it does not mean it Iran and Iraq


are the same places. Liberal Democrats voted against the war in


Iraq, but Iran is a different category. We do not want a war in


Iran but it is in our interest to prevent them getting nuclear


weapons. We have to stop, because We will be in Southport next week


and the week after in central London. If you would like to take


Or you can go to the website and we will give you a call. I hope you


Question Time comes from Plymouth, chaired by David Dimbleby. On the panel: Liberal Democrat Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne, Labour's former higher education minister David Lammy, Conservative MP Liz Truss, comedian Mark Steel and Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips.

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