29/03/2012 Question Time


David Dimbleby chairs a debate from Portsmouth, with Alexei Sayle, Douglas Alexander MP, Sarah Teather MP, Anna Soubry MP and Sir Simon Jenkins.

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We are in Portsmouth tonight. Welcome to Question Time. On the


panel with me, the Children's Minister, Sarah Teather, Shadow


Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, former television


presenter and lawyer, now Conservative MP, Anna Soubry.


Columnist and chair of the National Trust, Simon Jenkins, and one of


the original alternative comedians, now a novelist and journalist,


Thank you very much. Let's have the first question, please. Who is


responsible for the unjustified panic-buying at petrol stations


today, the Government or the unions? Who is responsible for the


panic buying. Petrol stations are closing all over the country,


apparently. Who is responsible, the union or Government? Alexei Sayle.


It is not me. I think it was Francis Maude. It was wonderful


trying to see him back-pedal yesterday after he said we should


fill our pockets with diesel. Looking at how this has developed,


it seems like a ploy that has gone wrong, that the Government heard


about the tanker drivers threatening to go on strike. They


thought they could bang Labour with it by linking them to Unite. They


highlighted the story. Unfortunately, the British people


like a good old panic, and that is where we are. I am driving to


Liverpool tomorrow in my enormous car. I will probably get as far as


Stoke. That is a nice city! Well, the unions, basically, because it


is the unions who have called this unjustified strike. We hope there


will not be a strike and the Government is doing what it can to


prevent that. Ed Davey, Energy Secretary, has asked a Cass macro


to intervene and we hope this will not result in a strike. -- ACAS.


The Government was trying to make the situation aware so that the


British public could take sensible precautions. Was Francis Maude


right to talk about at bit of extra fuel in a jury can, or was it a


mistake by the cabinet minister? think Francis Maude would recognise


that he did not use the most sensible words on that occasion.


That is a generous way of putting it. I am a government minister,


David. Is he responsible for the queuing? We need this in


perspective. There is the possibility of a strike and the


Government is trying to put information out there so that the


public can take precautions. We are saying there is no rush. You do not


need to rush out and fill your car with petrol. Yes, you do, because


there are queues everywhere and they are running out of petrol.


are trying to make sure that people are aware there is a possibility of


a strike, which we hope to avoid. Had we not done this, and had there


been a strike without that level of warning, it would have been a much


worse situation. I must emphasise that even if there is a strike, the


worst case scenario, they have to give seven days' notice, so there


is no need to rush out. Simon Jenkins. I came in last night, and


Pat -- I have a long journey this weekend and I turned on the


television and there was a politician telling me not to panic.


I panicked. It took me 30 seconds to get into the car, five minutes


to get to the garage, joined the queue and fill my tank. It was


completely rational, the sensible thing to do. Had the politician not


told me not to panic, I would not have panicked. There was no reason


for this. We could see there was going to be a strike, possibly.


There is no strike announced. No one had to say anything and we


could form our own judgment as to whether to fill the tank. When


someone tells you not to panic, you panic. I agree with Simon. I take


issue with Sarah. She seems to be giving conflicting statements. She


says there was a strike and that is why we said you should fill up. But


there is not a strike, and if there is, don't worry about it, but do


worry about it now but not when it happens. What was the purpose of


any of it, and should we panic, or not? Douglas Alexander. I tried to


follow Sarah's answer, but this seems a self-inflicted shambles


caused by the Government. Don't take my word for it, take the word


of the AA chairman who said these were self-inflicted shortages. Look


out of the chairman of the independent retailers for petroleum


producers has said this afternoon, he said this crisis was caused by


ministers. I take no pride in saying this, but they have given


deeply conflicting signals. If you look at the evidence, if everybody


who had a half filled petrol tank in the country at the moment filled


up over the next 24 hours, there is a sevenfold increase in the amount


of petrol consumed at the pump. The sums do not add up. Should Ed


Miliband, given Labour's supported by Unite, tried to get the strike


called off? It is an industrial dispute which may lead to a strike.


There has been a ballot for industrial action. I welcome the


fact that the arbitration service ACAS has said that they expect


talks to begin on Monday. Hopefully we can avoid a strike. Ed Balls has


been clear that he does not want this strike to happen. -- Ed


Miliband. But we are in a situation where we were in a delicate


situation that demanded a serious, considered response from the


Government. I think it has been manipulated for political purposes.


That is nonsense. On what grounds could that possibly have been


political? That is ridiculous. know that the Government has not


had the easiest week in terms of news management. They tried to


change the story with alcohol pricing. I think that is beneath


you. They have decided to ramp up the rhetoric. The Government's


emergency committee was convened on this issue. I think the


Government's crisis committee should be called for a national


crisis, not a political crisis. The Government has been exposed as


working to a party interest, rather than a national interest. You would


have been the first to complain if the Government had not put out


information, had not begun planning, had not begun proper planning for


something that might be serious. What is the proper planning? Is it


that we should fill tanks, or not? People lead to use their common


sense. What does that mean? I think it is a helpful attitude by the


Government. I am looking forward to what they say when the Fire


Brigades Union strike. Will beat -- will we be advised to set fire to


our homes to beat the rush? I am not sure that I follow. She is


saying that to beat the rush before if firemen's strike, would we be


advised to set fire to our homes. It is a joke. How would it help?


is a joke! My query is, do we know what this strike is about, because


the information I have read, it is about a health and safety issue


with the fact that the potential strikers have a concern that the


health and safety issues of their deliveries, their mode of operation


with their companies is not as it should be? The question is, it has


been hijacked by both sides of the fence into a political argument and


it is being hidden, actually, that there is a danger about delivering


petrol to garages. I am very much with Sarah on this. You might be


surprised, but I am. What was the big government to do? If you follow


what Douglas has said, the Government should have done nothing


and said nothing. Quite rightly, the Government looked to the future.


There are genuine concerns that there might be a strike and so they


are quite properly taking measures to make sure that if there is a


strike, we have enough petrol and the fuel supplies can continue to


the garages. And the advice that the Government has given, and


letting Sarah has said it very well, is to use your common sense. It was


not. It was to use -- fill up your car. If it is half full, fill it up.


As a result, fuel sales doubled yesterday in the whole of the UK.


But the Government was right to say to people, this is something that


could happen and you should be aware of that and take the


necessary measures to make sure you have enough petrol. When I say, use


common sense, if you are somebody who does not have to use your car


very much, obviously you should not have as much beer as somebody who


is not only using their card to get to work but may have to take a


relative to hospital. -- you should not have as much goofier. They


should make sure they have some petrol in a can. I think one of


those things used for a petrol- driven lawnmower. There is nothing


wrong with that. Sensible measures. This is the only country in a world


where it requires a Government minister to go on television and


tell people to use common sense. We could have done that without being


told. If you did not know the dangers, if you were not alert to


the possibilities, you would not have known. I can read the


newspapers. I do not need to be told what to do. I would have read


and worked out for myself when to fill up my car. We would have been


damned if you do, damned if you don't. May be the reason that fuel


is getting lower and lower is because people use their cars a


little bit too much when they could walk or take a bike. Obviously not


as far as Liverpool, but I have seen people driving to places they


could easily have walked two in 10 minutes. At the moment, they are


driving around looking for a petrol station! You are all talking about


common sense. Is it more like rare sense? As Simon said, as soon as he


heard on the news about a petrol strike, he went out to fill up his


car. He was not using common sense, he was panicking. But he had to get


somewhere, so he says. May be people who do not need to use their


cars are not using common sense and we are talking about rare sense.


I think because the unions have threatened to go on strike, once


again the Labour Party is incapable of telling them not to go on strike


because they are funded by them, you still have not said that maybe


they should not go on strike but have given a load of waffle, as the


Labour Party always does. You should actually be saying, you


should not go on strike. If you did that, we would not have to be told


that maybe you should fill up your car if you can. That is all you


need to do, but you do not. I do not want to see the strike happen


and I want it avoided at all costs. He says you should tell them.


them, in front of all of us, tell them not to go on strike. I am


happy to tell you that I do not want the strike to happen. Tell


them not to do it. I want them to get round the negotiating table.


ACAS have offered talks, and I hope and expect the union will be there.


We need this issue resolved, rather than seeing a Government that is


offering advice, to put petrol in two-way can which could affect


people's insurance. When this was being said, your leader was


pretending to be buying a Cornish pasty. Nobody can tell them not to


strike. They are allowed to strike. Your leader was busy pretending to


be buying a Cornish pasty and taking political means. You are


doing things bullet -- for political gain, not doing anything


for the country. If you want to join the debate from home, you can


Another question, from Phil Barton. Does a �250,000 dinner with the


Prime Minister influence Government This is a reference to Phil Cruddas.


Does it actually influence Government policy in your opinion?


It shouldn't. If I had given someone �1 million or �5 million or


quarter of a million, I think I would like to meet them. I really


do. If you are really financing political parties this way, the


least you can do is say hello. If that has the slightest thing to do


with policy it's irregular. That's the difference. Does it? Well, we


are told that it does, in the Cruddas, careful what we say, he


appeared to be promising that it would or at least you would be


listened to. He may have been wrong but he said it. Having spent the


last six months involved with a different campaign where fairly


clearly people were listening to people giving money, it does have


an effect. So, I think it's wrong. Sorry, what are you quoting as an


example or lawyers preventing you speaking? They are slightly. The


big planning dispute, a lot of money was being swivelled around,


no doubt about that by lobbyists who were keen to get the planning


law changed in their direction. I think that should not be a part of


the funding of political parties in any remote sense.


APPLAUSE. And in a Soubry -- and in a and


Anna Soubry. The answer is no. This man said stuff he shouldn't have


said. There is no foundation and basis to it. He has resigned which


is the right thing to do. The party is holding an inquiry to make sure


that we know exactly how we got into a position where by this man


was saying thee things and there is no basis... You speak about this


man as - he is your co-Treasury of the Tory Party. I don't know him


and what he said was wrong. Do you think he was stupid? I do think he


was stupid and it was the wrong thing to say. Stupid in the way he


put it or not check check they weren't journalists. Stupid not to


sus out they were journalists? combination of that and he didn't


know the facts as well, the fact is there is no policy committee at


Number 10 and if people are good enough to donate money to the


Conservative Party, then whilst they can get a dinner with David


Cameron, what they don't get is any extra influence over anybody else,


because they have donated money and that's the way that we operate in


the Tory Party. What did he mean when he said do you think when you


see the Prime Minister, after your quarter of a million cheque


presumably has not bounced,... do forgive me, there are strict


criteria. 10,000, 100,000? Strict criteria - I know you are making


lovely cheap jokes here, but can I be serious about this. Within the


Tory Party and no doubt the same in the others as well, there are very


strict compliance rules that have to be met and we have a department


that absolutely looks at every potential donation and this


donation - there was no money that ever passed hands in any event, and


even if it had gone any further it would not have complied with any of


our rules whatsoever. That's really important to understand how


seriously we take donations. These are not cheap jokes, these are


serious matters. The Prime Minister himself talked about lobbying, we


know, pwr he came into lunches. We know how it works. It does seem and


you have just said it, that you can get dinner with the Prime Minister


if you give enough money to the Conservative Party. Apparently you


can, I am certainly obviously not in that league and I don't know


anybody who is. Do you think that's a good thing? The point Simon makes,


people donated money to my campaign before I got elected into


parliament, not on this scale, if only they had, but and out of


courtesy one would want to meet with somebody who had been good


enough to support your campaign financially and thank them but I


can tell you if anybody had given money to my campaign, sought to


think that they could find any favour as a result with me that


they might change my mind on any subject, I would have given them


their money back and sent them back -- packing. Certainly my party,


that's exactly how we work. Does the union Unite get the ear of Ed


Miliband as a result of funding huge amount of the Labour Party?


Trade unions including Unit - there is a world of difference between


dinner ladies donating �3 a year to a party that supports the the


Labour Party and a �250,000 to dine with the Prime Minister in Downing


Street. That's disingenuous. How much does Unite give to the Labour


Party? How many millions of pounds do Unite? Ordinary people who work


on factory floors, drive buses, that's different from Lord Ashcroft


or from the people... How much did Bernie Ecclestone give to the


Labour Party? That was a scandal... APPLAUSE. I think about �1 million.


A million. First of all, all political parties have had these


problems in the past. I think what we witnessed at the weekend was


something which was deeply reprehensible. When the co-chair of


the Conservative Party was promising cash for policies. I have


to say, for good reasons Anna is judged a rising star, if they have


nothing to hide why wasn't one of the 79 Conservative Ministers one


of the 18 Conservative ministers in the cabinet willing to appear


tonight in front of this audience and defend the Conservative Party's


position. It's the same reason that David Cameron refused to come to


the House of Commons this week and they promised an inquiry by the


Conservative Party for the Conservative Party, into the


Conservative Party. We deserve better. Let me just make one final


point. I am in the for a moment suggesting the Labour Party, the


Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, the Tories haven't


all had difficulties with funding themselves over recent years. They


have. I think there is a way this can be dealt with. There are three


challenges. First of all, how do we get the big money out of politics?


That is by reducing the spending limits on parties so that actually


parties can't spend as much money when they campaign. Secondly, I do


think that there should be a cap on individual donations and that


should below below enough that it's fair for all the political parties.


That would include the trade unions? Individual donations.


on, right. Would that be trade unions? I agree with you, let's


have a �50,000 cap and let it include the trade unions. Let's


agree to that. A final point. There is an issue which is not, I believe


Labour Party policy but I also think we have to confront, it's a


difficult issue to confront in these tough times. I personally


believe the recommendations that were set out in the last inquiry


into party funding, saying that there should be a larger public


contribution has to be part of this conversation because I think unless


politicians are willing at least to have the conversation with the


public about how to get a cleaner politics, then we are going to


continue to see the kind of scandals that certainly don't do


our party in the past that we saw re-emerge this weekend in the


Conservative Party. The man in the second row from the back. Is it a


coincidence that the sting operation was carried out by a


Murdoch newspaper? Sarah Teather? am in the sure I can comment on


that. I have no idea about that. I think what is good actually is that


we are all agreed that it's time to reform party funding. I do agree


with what others have said that in fact all parties have had their


difficulties on this, we are none of us immune from it. This might


have been the Conservatives, we have had previous issues with


Labour as you pointed out. And you have had your troubles with Michael


Brown, �2.4 million. We have had our own incidents frankly, but I am


sure much rather forget. question is about influence, not


moving forward. It's about whether it's possible to buy influence.


This is BBC News. The headlines: Simon was saying in his opinion


there was evidence that it was Petrol sales jump by more than 80%


possible. I don't think it is in a day as ministers come under


possible to buy influence. I would fire for their handling of the fuel


like us to reform... Why was he on behalf of the Conservative Party


suggesting it could be done? tanker drivers' dispute.


Blackberry's smartphone manufacturer announces it's


withdrawing from the consumer He was raising money for the


Conservative Party. What I can say, however, is that if we are going to


market after a big drop in sales. A warning that the solution used to


preserve donor organs in the UK could be contaminated with bacteria.


Health officials say there's no cause for alarm. There are


effective antibiotics against it. And now everybody is warned to look


ou ouection. -- infection. The government's nuclear power


strategy suffers a setback as two major energy companies abandon


plans to build power plants in the There is much we can do to reform


the situation so we don't see this UK. The government is accused of


kind of crisis happening again. causing panic at the pumps as long


queues have continued to form at petrol stations after ministers


advised motorists to stock up on fuel. Sales at the pumps yesterday


I am I am not sure about party soared by 80%, with some stations


running out of fuel altogether. Labour has blamed the government


Large interests make their for causing a crisis. The


government is blaming the unions interests felt in all kinds in


and so far a strike by tanker teacher ways. Why else did we bail


drivers hasn't even been called yet. out the banks? Why else did we


buy... APPLAUSE. Thank you comrades!


Why do we pay �85 million for a croppy Eurofighter typhoon? It


condition be because they're not any good. It can only be because


like 97 of the last Labour defence Ministers now work for British


Aerospace. It's either the promise of a rephaoupl rative directorship


further down the line. Like Prescott's Pathfinder initiative


which had the finger prints of the giant building companies all over


it where they were knocking down perfectly decent houses all over


the north and either, now because the money's run out leaving them


empty or building up these throwing up foul little boxes, you know,


hideous boxes but built by the five big building companies. Why did


that happen, if it's not - there's no sense to it. There's no national


good to it. All that it benefits is the big building companies, how


The man at the back. Sarah Teather just said that we now is not the


time for an increased role of state funding in political parties. But


the recent review suggested about �3 per voter. I think voters are


quite intelligent and the average taxpayer pays hundreds of pounds a


year. The three main parties seriously telling me if their


leadership didn't lead the debate on party funding, that we can


persuade a lot more people to be in favour of paying �3 towards


political parties if it meant - I think they absolutely would be if


it meant removing the influence of the unions, dodgy dinners with Dave,


the odd Lib Dem shady background, I think a lot of voters would be in


favour of that, yeah. You, Sir at the back. I think it's


coming back down to the Tories, the rich landed people, we saw it last


week with the 50p tax rate and now we are seeing �250,000 donations. I


agree with Douglas, I would rather have the money of the working man,


the teachers, dinner ladies, rather than somebody off some person who


just inherited millions of pounds. You Sir here. I would also agree


with the point Douglas made at the end, I think actually given the


hundreds of billions the Government spends on our behalf it's important


they should get on with that job and the opposition should be there


to hold them to account. It's a small price to pay. Simon Jenkins.


I really don't mind if complete idiots want to give huge amount of


money to other idiots. That's their business. The thing that matters to


me is how the country is governored. The only way of handling this is


for everybody who has access to power, to the Prime Minister and


members of the cabinet, cabinet Ministers, has to disclose that


fact. I would like to know how many times British aowe space meets the


Ministry of Defence, who sees who when. Nothing to do with money.


Government already does publish details quarterly about meetings


they have. This Government is the first Government to do that. So we


are actually - already doing that. Even Dave's disclosing his dinner


guests as well. We have a list of people we would like to see who saw


who when. It's commendable, no doubt it will spill over to future


generations. I very much opposed to any form of taxpayers money going


into the funding of politics. There's already too much state


funding of politics. What I agree with Douglas on is we should reduce


the cost of politics. It's bonkers how much all the political parties


now pay in order to keep their party political organisations up


and running. OK. Another question, Annabel Cyril. Was the 56-day


sentence for Liam Stacey, following his racially abusive tweets about


the footballer Fabrice Muamba excessive? This is all about the


social network, of course, and Liam Stacey who pleaded guilty to the


use of racially aggravated words, but is appealing against his his


sentence. Was the 56 days excessive? I thought it was


ridiculous. I have a file on my desk of what I call silly sentences.


They are people who fail to pay their dog licence, whatever it is,


they've failed to pay a TV licence. They've slipped up on something.


Sending people to prison at the drop of a hat is absurd. It's more


preuf leapt than anyone else in Europe. In what I call free speech,


but not nice free speech, if we can't tolerate people coming out of


line like that, I hope I -- I think it was unjust and hope he wins an


appeal. APPLAUSE. Yeah, I mean I agree with Simon. It's absolutely


absurd. There is a sort of weird thing about the internet about


tweeting and all that. People have always had these kind of black


thoughts haven't they, but now they can get them out and they're


solidified. I wonder whether it makes people - whether it makes


people worse. You know, that you express this kind of darkness in


your brain, if it goes out into the world... Even though you had your


face on there, it's an anonymous thing you are doing and you are so


far removed from the rest of society you get this feeling you


can say and do whatever you want to do, and not be held accountable for


it. Do you think that makes you feel weirder? There was a study,


there is a statistical for studied name for it, but it gives you this


feeling of anonymity. When you write for a paper one of the things


when you get comments, always drives me mad, when people post and


they say things as if you didn't know what you were writing. So,


this is rubbish, yeah, that's what I am sorry, I thought I was doing


stand-up for a minute! But then, surely if someone is allowed to get


away with making racist comments on Twitter, wouldn't that encourage


someone else to be racist in public or in other places, or on other


social network websites? thought the sentence was justified?


Yes, I did. The comments were appalling and deserve condemnation,


not least because the very small number is an extraordinary player


and the footballing community did an extraordinary job in uniting


behind Fabrice Muamba. There is no justification for these comments,


but that being said, I did not understand the basis on which this


sentence was handed down by the judge and I was left with the sense


that maybe they had not been a full appreciation of what Twitter


actually involves. It is a pretty new media that is half a


conversation with a friend and half a publication on the internet that


can go round the world. A few politicians have found themselves


in difficulty because of this media. It needs to be the case that we


should be resolute in rejecting racism wherever it appears, online


or off-line. But we need people to understand that everybody, even


idiots posting horrible, racist remarks are having to come to terms


with wholly different forms of conversation and media than we have


seen in the past. I was just wondering, if the appeal is not


overturned, will anyone get arrested for racist comments on


Lynn? If someone makes a racist comment on Twitter, or if someone


brings racial abuse in to it, will they be arrested? Foul and racist


language should not be tolerated. Should you be jailed for using it?


He was rightly prosecuted. I think sometimes we forget that perhaps by


prosecuting somebody and there for them having a criminal record is in


itself quite a sentence, because you have to go to court. You will


have it on your history for the rest of your life and in this case


rightly so. I was surprised that the sentence. I think it is


excessive and there have the appeal is successful but I hope he has


learned his lesson. And I hope other people have learned their


lesson. I don't know whether you know this, David, but after


programmes like this there is a lot of tweeting that goes on. I have


seen it, after appearing on the show last year. People will be


tweeting about you at this moment. Some of it is extremely unpleasant.


Is it? Very personal. Some people do all right from it. Some analysts


come off and are delighted with it. It can be extremely unpleasant. It


should not be tolerated. But there is a message that goes out to


everybody which is that it is wrong to use racist language like this


and we do not want to tolerated in our society. -- to tolerate it.


Sarah Teather, can we stick with the 56 days sentence. He will be


able to make his case in appeal about whether or not it was


excessive. I am not sure I quite agree with Douglas about the nature


of Twitter and whether or not you should treat that as different to


publishing anywhere else. Picking up the. The gentleman made from the


audience, people are treating the ensnare as if it somehow doesn't


matter, as if it is a private conversation. You would not say


most of these things in front of your friends, but you are prepared


to publish it to the world. It causes enormous upset. I think


there is a nasty trend. If you are prepared to say it there, it


gradually changes will becomes acceptable. So I have some sympathy


with the idea that there should be treated in the same way as


publishing anywhere else. It is up to him to make the case in the


Court of Appeal. Do you think the judge made the case for the


sentence? As a Government minister I am not sure I should comment. It


is up to him to make the case in the appeal. It has been said you do


not agree with the sentence, but you want him to learn the lesson.


How can he be expected to learn the lesson if he does and says, I do


not agree with the sentence, and it gets overturned? How is that


punishing him? Maybe it is excessive, but if we say we will


punish you but when you appeal you will get away with it... He did


plead guilty. I know. He has pleaded guilty, but he does not


agree with the sentence. So every time someone disagrees with a


sentence and they say, I did it but I do not want that sentence, is


that going to say to people that, I will appeal and get away with it?


There are dozens of ways of coping with things we disliked before


sending someone to prison. I object to the obsession with sending two


people to prison which we do like no other country except America and


China. There has to be a better way of coping with people who misbehave.


You say we do not tolerate something, but what you mean by


tolerate? The point that the gentleman makes in the green T-


shirt is that you do not appeal against the sentence because you do


not like it, but because the legal advice is that it is excessive. I


do not know the details of this case. It struck me as excessive.


There are other ways to punish him. He could be punished within the


community as effectively, in my view, as a custodial sentence. Pre-


by not having tough sentences, does it not stop other people from


thinking that they can take it a next step further. Why not -


someone up on the street? You think it was reasonable? It is a great


example. Otherwise people will think they can get away with it.


That is the opinion that I have because many people with that


mentality will continue to do it. He did not beat anyone up. But I am


saying people will take it another step further. It is like lighting a


fire with fuel. How can it be right that a man gets


a 56 days sentence for tweeting but yet a person can abuse a child and


get a community sentence? How is We will move on that to the


question from James Leigh. In light of taxing pasties but not caviar,


are we still all in this together? I do not expect you were expecting


this, Sarah Teather. You have a lot of notes about it. Are we still in


this together, in light of pasties being taxed? The problem with the


issue about pasties at the moment is that you can have a situation


where a large business is able to sell hot food without paying VAT.


And yet the family run chip shop down the road is having to pay VAT.


That is not fair. We are trying to make a level playing field. So you


are behind it 100%. It is a straightforward, simple matter of a


level playing field. There is a funny situation where we assume


that a large business, Tesco or critics, is somehow the underdog,


as opposed to the family run Chinese or chip shop or takeaway.


They have been undercut by large businesses on the High Street for a


period of time. That from Sarah Teather, with Anna Soubry agreeing.


Douglas Alexander. I can understand why people do not to -- do not


believe that we are in this together. We had the spectacle of


David Cameron telling us that his household is so hard up the has to


borrow somebody else's horse. George Osborne has admitted to not


knowing one end of a pasty from the other. The Prime Minister invited


cameras into the garden in Downing Street to show he was in touch by


playing badminton in his suit. Ridiculous. Rather like Tony Blair.


Is that not rather what Tony Blair did? Actually, this was a proposal


considered under Tony Blair and rejected. And he did not play


badminton. He played football but that is a separate issue. The issue


in terms of pasties is that sometimes a story like this tells


the deeper truth. We did not suddenly discover they are


millionaires around the Cabinet table, and I do not care what they


eat around their kitchen table. I care about the decisions they reach


around the Cabinet table. We would not have this story this week if we


had not seen last week a Budget that decided its priority was to


give a tax break to millionaires in the country paid for by pensioners.


Last week, a Budget for millionaires, and next Friday we


will have a situation where families earning �20,000 in this


country are going to find themselves up �253 worse off every


year as a direct result of the removal of tax credits. 2 million


of the lowest paid people will be taken out of tax altogether. That


is because of decisions this Government has taken, decisions


that I, as a Liberal Democrats, argued for. The You are acting as a


human shield for the Government on this one. There are going to be


families that earned �20,000 who will be more than �250 worse off.


What would you have done? I am dying to here. It would be the


first time we have heard any proposals from Labour about


cleaning up the mess they left. would not have a Budget that takes


more money from families than from the banks. I would impose a tax on


profits from the banks in particular. And I would use the


money to put young people in my constituency back to work. It is


the wrong values and the wrong priorities. He is asking, why


didn't you, if you had the chance? Over 10 years, we had sustained


economic growth and higher levels of employment. When we left office,


unemployment was falling and growth was rising. We now have a situation


where the economy has flatlined, confirmed by the OECD today,


unemployment is rising, more than 1 million young people are without


jobs. You are part of that. I will talk about pasties in a minute.


Start on pasties. I like pasties, very nice. Should they have a VAT


on them? Absolutely. Why did the Labour Party not vote against the


reduction to 45 pence in the tax rate when you had the opportunity


earlier this week in Parliament? Why did you not do that? We voted


against the entire Budget. In those specifics, you did not do that. Did


you vote against the change in VAT on hot takeaway food? We will vote


against it when it comes to the house. If you win the next election,


will you raise the top rate of tax up to 50p? If there was an election


tomorrow we would not support the cut on the top rays of but the top


They would carry on with the mess. I thought the question was about


pasties! I agree with Sarah. There is a case for a level playing field


on the taxation of takeaway hot food. What amazes me is that I


imagine the briefing session at the Treasury. It is OK if the pasty is


cold inside the shop and it gets colder outside but the temperature


has to be the same as the ambient temperature on one side of the


shock to the other side, and you can buy it cold and heated up and


take it out. At a certain point, the shrewd politician would go,


stop, this is a disaster area, and would leave it entirely alone. It


is a metaphor, the ability to say stop, this is not going to be a


happy experience for me. You have had your say for the moment.


I didn't care about when the question was asked, and I care


about it even less now. Having heard everybody else? 20 p on a


pasty. How did we get from pasties to the OECD? I am with Alexei Sayle.


I think it is utterly unimportant, but perhaps the reason it has


generated so much debate is not a class issue of whether Tory


ministers eat pasties. We would be surprised if they did. But perhaps


we feel the political class is divorced from real life. Do you


believe that? David Davies said today that the public think you are


all toffs, well dressed, well turned out and in a different world.


I do not think that is true but I understand why people think it. The


thing I find most concerning is that the way that I have been


brought up, and I think most sensible people have been brought


up, is to be tolerant. I don't care what school people went to, how


they speak, what their parents do, how much money they have inherited


or not. I look at people and I judge them as they are today. Are


they a good person, do they do the right things, bring up their kids


properly, take responsibility, care about their neighbours, about their


communities, what are their aspirations and dreams for the


future? That is what I care about. I am slightly concerned about what


strikes me - it upsets me - here we are in 2012 judging people on the


basis of class. I went to a comprehensive school. Does anybody


I am going to go to you, Sir. there is going to be a national


shortage of Cornish pasties, could the Government Minister give us


advice on how we are to cope with APPLAUSE. Use your common sense I


would say! Start stacking them full of pasties now. A question from


Sean Woodward Now. Should the Government allow new grammar


schools? This is in the light of the decision announced today by


Kent County Council they're going to build a grammar school in


Sevenoaks, they've one in Tunbridge and Tunbridge Wells I think and


they're saying it's possible because it's an extension of the


other grammar schools and some people say this is getting around


the law. The Government have always said they wouldn't allow new


grammar schools. Douglas Alexander, should the Government step in and


prevent the council doing this or is it is it something that's going


to spread through the country? understand they've done the reverse,


altered some of the regulations to allow the satellite campus to be


established as it's called in Kent. I personally think there are much,


of bigger and more important issues facing our schools in the country


and if I had a criticism of the Conservatives in relation to what


Michael Gove is doing on free schools, in particular, it's that


so much effort and energy is being put in to a group of schools that


will only ever be marginal to the vast number of schools in the


country with where we want to see... I don't want to stop you saying


what you want to say but this is in the a questionen sraoeuting you to


give your education policy, it's a question about grammar schools in


particular, what's your view about that? Our position has not changed.


Where we were not convinced that the way forward was to establish


further grammar schools when we were in office and that remains the


position. Do you believe the Government should step in as Labour


Party policy should should step in and preKent the council and other


councils setting up new schools? don't support the expansion. That's


not an answer. Would you vote against it, would you pressure the


Government? That wouldn't be our policy if if in Government today.


Sarah Teather? The Government doesn't want to see any new grammar


schools and that's the Government's policy. It's always been possible


to expand grammar school places, it it happened under Labour Party, it


went up about 30,000 extra places when they were in office. What the


Government has done is increase flexibility for all schools


regardless of their teen f they're good schools thebgs ex-- they can


expand in relation to demand. There shall be no new schools based on


selection and... Isn't this to get around it? I am sure they will take


serious account of the law of the land and look at that. What they


haven't done at the moment is to publish the detail of their


proposals, what they have said is they want to expand grammar schools


in that area but haven't said which schools. There's yet no detail


about exactly which school will be expanding where and I am sure that


they will take account very clearly of the law of the land. If you


thought it was Kent County Council trying to build a new grammar


school in Sevenoaks and just using weasel words to do it you would say


that was illegal? The law is clear. Simon Jenkins? Well, the particular


case is problematic, if you have a selective system and a shortage in


one area of places for people who have passed the the 11-Plus, you


have been selected, nothing to do with parental choice, this is about


being selected then you have a problem and this is an attempt to


cure the problem. As a general principle, I think the ending of


selection of children to different schools at 11 back in the 1960s was


the one genuinely progressive thing we have done since the war and it


would be a tragedy if we went back to that particular form of


selection. It was inhuman. happens in the private system. You


get into the top public school by exam and lesser public schools if


you fail them. Usually at 13. It was the election at 11 which seemed


-- selection at 11 which seemed an indecent age to do this to children.


It's cruel. We all hear about kept grammar schools. And Anna Soubry.


don't have anything to add to what Simon and Sarah said. Are you


against grammar schools? I agree very much with what Simon says.


Determining somebody's future which is largely what happened, I went to


a comprehensive but a grammar school that went comprehensive


after my second year. You did see, there's no doubt about it in my


home town, children that didn't pass their Len plus that went to


secondary modern schools, although some of them were good, many of


those youngsters felt from the age of 11 it had been determined they


were second-class in some way, which they weren't and they


shouldn't have been. So, whilst there were huge failings when we


went comprehensive certainly in Nottinghamshire, on balance, I


think it's good that we have not re-introduced the grammar system.


You are against creating an elite in the state system? In the private


system, we were talking about Etonians, that's an elitist


education that people can afford have and people go by the wayside


there. They go to lesser schools. didn't like the idea if you didn't


get to a top public school that somehow the lesser public schools


took people who weren't as bright. It's exactly what they do. I don't


think it is actually as simple as that. This is tedious stuff in the


sense that the vast majority of children in this country are


educated in the state system and that's where we should be putting


all our efforts and what we should be talking about. Hold on, the man


up there. Being brought up in a state school environment, you know,


the school I went to in Portsmouth didn't have the best of records, I


don't care if this grammar school in Kent wants to expand. At the end


of the day, if they want to expand they want to expand. But there's


one thing I have to warn about this, you talk about the class system.


The class system system associated with grammar schools is very high.


You look at here in Portsmouth, the grammar school, walking through the


high street, people look at them and go oh they're the posh ones.


They're the ones with all the money. The posh word has to be taken away


from the grammar school system otherwise you are going to - people


from backgrounds like mine not going to grammar school because


it's posh. If it wasn't posh people would go there. I passed the 11-


Plus, it turned out that the 11- Plus was largely based on the


theories of a man called Sir Cyril Birth, it turned out after he died


he had been faking all the results of his experiments and that's all I


have to contribute to that really. Clearly I shouldn't have gone to


grammar school. It was entirely based on fake


research that people passed this, and it blighted people's lives. It


was like in a working class - turns out I do have something to say, the


day that the 11-Plus results came out it was like a poison that


spread. There was like kids wouldn't go past other kids' houses


because one had failed and one had succeeded. It has to be said that


there was one benefit and I would say that, because I am from the


town of Worksop, a mining town and undoubtedly when we did have the


11-Plus the only benefit was that there was some children who passed


the 11-Plus and it was their passport out of poverty. What I


want is to make sure that we can achieve that by making all our


schools, especially our academies, some of which are quite brilliant,


passports out of poverty for all children and have great state


schools, that's what we want, great state schools. APPLAUSE.


We have five minutes left for a last question from George Mitchell,


please. As we approach the 30th anniversary, could the UK fight a


campaign based on the Falklands as we did in 1982 if required to do


so? It falls this Monday, I think, the anniversary. Could the UK fight


a Falklands-type campaign? probably could fight it, if it was


that daft. But I mean, I can't imagine a stupid a thing to do. I


thought the Falklands war was a just war. It was a very high risk


war, a reckless war in many ways. But it was fought and it was won.


And wrong was put right thereby. I do think that since then we really


should have reached some accommodation with the Argentinians,


it's ridiculous now to be in a situation spending millions


defending these islands, very few people living there. We sold Hong


Kong. There's nothing special about the Falklands. It's become a token


of a sort of post-imperialism. There should be no question of any


war with Argentina over the Falklands. We should be negotiating


with them somehow. Sarah Teather.


Do you agree there should be negotiations? I don't think we are


in any danger of having a war with the Argentinians at the moment. I


think it would be completely irresponsible to suggest that we


are. I think the question that the gentleman asked was actually


broader, it was more about whether or not we have the capacity to ever


fight a similar battle such as that again. I hope again that we are


never put in that position to have to do that. War has changed


significantly since the 1980s, the nature has changed, what our


soldiers have to do has changed. Largely because we are now fighting


terrorism in a different way, so our military's had to change with


it as people here will be aware. you think we should negotiate with


Argentina as Simon suggested? don't think that there is any


danger of us currently going to war with Argentina over the Falklands.


I am quite clear... Nothing to talk about? I don't think there is any


danger of us going to war. You Sir. I find this a depressing question,


we have spent the last ten, 12 years fighting around the globe


chasing terrorists and I have got friend, I am ex-armed forces, I


have friends in the Falklands and their lives were defence straighted


because -- devastated because of it. It never ceases to amaize me, this


idea about Britain being this power and colonialism, and imperialism. I


find it depressing. APPLAUSE. OK. Douglas Alexander? I agree with the


gentleman to the extent our first responsibility as we approach the


remembers verse -- anniversary is to remember those who paid the


ultimate price in the last conflict and recognise and acknowledge their


sacrifice. I do think that the Strategic Defence Review carried


out by this Government is sa mess for the next decade, we are not


going to have aircraft on our carriers, the clue is in the title.


You are sporesed to have aircraft on top of aircraft carriers. The


British military have always risen to the challenge been set for them.


I think the Argentinians should be no doubt the Government's position


and the position of the Labour Party remains that the sovereignty


of the Falklands is not and should not be in question. But I think


this is a time that demands cool heads and careful words from


politicians, not just in Argentina, but also here in Britain. Anna


Soubry. We inherited, I know it's a phrase that's used, but we


inherited an MoD with a budget that was a disgrace. We are beginning to


balance the books. I have a barracks in my constituency, and


these are difficult times for the armed forces. Nobody wants to go to


war. Even though we are in these difficult times and it is difficult


for the forces I never fail to be struck by the remarkable courage


and determination and ultimate sacrifice that all our forces are


prepared to make. The answer would be? I think they're outstanding. We


should be proud of them. Yes the UK could? I think so, there were many


faults and fail initial the Falklands campaign but it was the


courage of those brave men, mainly men, that took us on to victory and


I am very proud of our forces. in the making a valued judgment but


clearly we couldn't, you know, we sold off all the Harrierings and


then -- Harriers and then the US marine corps bought them for �12


each. We haven't got any aircraft carriers, the joint strike fighters


a piece of junk. Given that we pay as much as we pay for our armed


forces the least we could do was send them around the world to mess


people up. We can't do that, we should probably pay less for our


armed forces, but there you go. We are getting the worst of both


worlds, pay ago fortune and they're rubbish. To pick up on the point


Simon made, should we negotiate with Argentina over the Falklands


or take the Government's position and opposition's position? I think


we should, I mean, the pressure coming from Argentina is clearly


more about fishing rights and the discovery of oil and gas off the


Falklands, we should certainly do a deal where we split the revenue, I


don't think that would do any harm. But, you know. Thank you very much.


Our hour is up. Question Time is back when parliament returns after


Easter. We are going to be in Leeds for the programme on 19th April and


on our panel there Yvette Cooper, and Tim Farren the Liberal Democrat


President and also the comedian Marcus Brigstock and we are going


to be in Romford for a special on The number is on the screen to call.


David Dimbleby presents Question Time from Portsmouth. On the panel: the comedian Alexei Sayle, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander MP, children's minister Sarah Teather MP, conservative Anna Soubry MP, and the columnist and chair of the National Trust Sir Simon Jenkins.

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