David Dimbleby chairs Question Time from Leicester. On the panel are Maria Miller, Mary Creagh, Susan Kramer, George Galloway and Fraser Nelson.
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We're in Leicester tonight. Welcome to Question Time.
Good evening to all of you watching at home
and to our audience here, and of course to our panel,
a Conservative Culture Secretary and Equality Minister, Maria Miller,
Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh,
the Liberal Democrat peer Susan Kramer,
who sits on the parliamentary commission investigating the banks,
the Respect MP George Galloway,
who returned to parliament last year after the Bradford West by-election,
and the editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson.
I'm not sure our first question
will come as an amazing surprise to everybody.
It's from Nadine Lynes, please. Nadine Lynes.
Who is to blame for the horse meat scandal?
Is it profit-driven supermarkets, incompetent food industry regulators
or consumers demanding ever-cheaper food?
So we've got three options - profit-driven supermarkets,
incompetent regulators or consumers wanting cheaper food.
Well, I think it has to be, erm,
I'm not going to blame people on very low incomes for wanting to buy
meat products for their families to feed them that are good value,
so I'm certainly not going to blame consumers for wanting a good deal
when everybody is really feeling the squeeze
from wages stagnating and prices going up.
But I do think there is an issue about what is happening to our...
the food system. I think there's an issue about criminal,
systematic adulteration of the food system,
which we now know spreads across Europe,
and I think that the processors have been too quick
to look for very cheap meat,
and the supermarkets have also perhaps pressed them down on prices
and not conducted some of the testing that they could have done
to get ahead of what is now a very widespread problem.
It seems to get...by the minute, more and more stories come out,
more and more supermarkets withdraw stuff.
Is any of it dangerous, or is it a matter of being lied to by people,
that you think you're buying beef
and you're getting horse meat instead?
Well, people have a right to know that the food that they're buying
is correctly labelled, is legal and is safe for them to eat,
and what started out as a bit of a...
three or four weeks ago, when Ireland announced they'd found
the adulteration in the burger products, it was a bit of a joke,
there were a lot of horse jokes going around.
I think with last week's developments with Findus,
where we saw that it was coming in from another route,
from continental Europe,
the events that we've seen even just this evening
with arrests taking place, with schools,
Staffordshire County Council
withdrawing products in its schools, and erm,
it now turning up in a fresh product this evening in a supermarket,
we're finding that it's actually,
it's much more widespread than we could have first thought,
and obviously, the more you look for it, the more you find.
Could this food crisis have been prevented
had the Labour government in 2003
not withdrawn random processed meat testing?
-I was rather waiting for Mary's answer on that.
You'll get it in a moment, but she's had two answers already.
It's true that the Food Standards Agency was Labour's creation,
and at the time the Conservatives were saying,
"Look, these guys are not going to be able to keep a proper check
"on the supermarkets," but I don't think you can blame
either Labour or the government for this.
This is the problem, simply, of the food companies.
I would lay the blame squarely at the door of Findus.
We've been amazed by the length of the supply chain.
A Swedish company using Cypriot, Dutch, French, Luxembourg, all these
companies, and in a way, it's not surprising that a scamster
would try to insert some fraudulent product into that supply chain.
But who's responsible for making sure?
I think it's the company, and the company should be punished.
See, for the last ten years,
we're not sure what meat we've been eating.
And what I'm really annoyed about is the fact that that's happened.
For the last ten years, we do not know.
Now we're being told that, "It's just horse meat, it's safe."
How do we know that?
We do not know how this meat's being transported, processed or stored.
OK, George Galloway.
But the back end of the pantomime horse has to be government.
We don't elect Findus.
We don't elect food companies.
We elect government to protect us.
And the reality is that not only, as you put it,
did the Labour government abandon random testing of processed foods,
but the Tories have cut 700 food standards officers.
Now what kind of false economy is that?
What's the cost to the country as a whole?
And they throw their hands up and say,
"We didn't know what was going into the food."
Well, if they didn't know horse was going into the food,
what else is going into the food that they don't know about?
That's the point.
And so, the answer to the question, David,
is the responsibility lies with profiteering food companies, yes,
but the people who are supposed to regulate the activities
of business in this country are the elected politicians,
and they're just not even at the starting gate on that.
OK, well, we've got two, we've got the former Labour
and the current Tory. Let's come to the Tories first.
-Have you cut 700, is that the figure you gave?
I think what the chief executive of the FSA has made very clear...
that she has exactly the right resources that she needs.
She would say that! You're paying her a big salary to say that!
-And we're still undertaking...
-You sacked 700 officers. Yes or no?
And we're still undertaking 90,000 tests a year,
and I think that's important,
but what we mustn't do here is get away from the fact that
there has been potentially a mass European-wide fraud going on,
and I think as things unfold, we can see that,
certainly when it comes to the Great British public being able to
go out and buy food on our shelves and know what they're buying,
yes there has been, I think, some enormous problems in people's...
But is the Food Standards Agency responsible for making sure
that if you buy a cut of meat or a hamburger which says it's beef,
it is beef and not beef plus pork or beef plus horse?
Is that the job of the FSA?
What the FSA is there to do is make sure that we do have good standards,
-but it can't account for...
-No, but is it responsible for the content?
But what it can't account for is the fact that there has been
potentially a mass fraud on a European scale here,
and we have to take that into account.
Why can't it account for that, if it's doing its job?
When it comes to looking at who is culpable here,
we have to say that those individual companies
that are putting products on our shelves,
labelling them as beef and then not being beef,
then the responsibility really has to lie at the manufacturing arm.
So George is wrong to say
government should be able to do anything about it?
I think that the first
and prime responsibility has to be with the manufacturers,
because all of us who go into our supermarkets
expect the products on our shelves to be what is on the label.
OK, no hold on, you've had your say. The woman up there, sorry.
The woman up there on the left, on the gangway.
The supermarkets don't much care where their products come from
as long as they get it for the right price and can make
a lot of profit on it, and that's the issue at the end of the day.
It's just profit, it's getting things as cheap as possible.
And it's a shame, really, that we can't go back to using local
independent stores that source their products locally.
I appreciate the supermarkets for people that are on a really
tight income are the answer, but we really need to get back
to supporting our own local independent stores
that can help us to know what we're eating.
Susan Kramer, I'll come back to you about Labour's role,
but Susan Kramer, what do you think?
Well, I strongly agree with the lady who just talked about local food.
This is fraud, it's got to be prosecuted, it's got to be hit hard,
and I hope people end up in handcuffs and in jail as a consequence of this,
but I am worried about the length of the food chain.
This starts out in Romania, it goes to France, it goes to Holland,
Sweden...I don't know that any regulator,
no matter how staffed they are,
and how good and strong they are, can really keep
a grip on a food chain that is this long and this complex.
I hope that when we come out of this,
there is some review of the sort of length of the food chain
and whether or not we can shorten this and build much more focus
and intense traceability throughout the whole system.
-More expensive, though.
-It may be more expensive,
but there is a price to pay when you go cheap.
And that price is that you create an opportunity for bad people, and
unfortunately there are bad people, to come in and exploit the system...
And do you make it easier for them
by abolishing 700 Food Standard Agency officers
or do you make it harder?
The sad part is, you could probably have the 700,
and I've no idea what different things they were doing.
My question is, even if you had them back again,
would that have made the key difference or is this
so complex and so wide and so interesting, essentially,
to the criminal bodies, that that isn't going to be the answer?
Sometimes you have to look at the structure of things,
not simply say, "We just have to have a stronger regulator."
I want a strong regulator, but we must look at structure.
So, you know, support your local butcher, and...
What, and make your own hamburgers?
If you have to eat a little less meat but better meat, that is tough,
and I know that's not easy, but there are other benefits that come with it.
We could all become vegetarian.
There are a lot of people with their hands up.
So I'd like to hear your views, actually.
The person there in spectacles, in the fourth row.
I've got two young children and they're even asking me now,
"What is safe to eat?" They're looking on the news as well,
and it's not just the beef burgers,
it's the chicken coming out with the chicken nuggets
and everything, and it is very worrying, and you think,
"Well, who can you trust... what can you trust to eat?"
What do you say to them, and do you go on feeding them...?
Oh, well, obviously you feed them, yeah.
LAUGHTER DROWNS SPEECH
No, I look on the boxes and it says 100% beef or 100% chicken,
and it's not.
There's 98% or 50% or 76%, so it's like, what are you actually eating
that's, you know, it's packed with all these different ingredients.
-What can you trust?
-OK, and the man, bang in the middle there, up there.
-This horse meat scandal
has been going on for almost a month now
and we're still no closer to finding out where it actually
comes from or how many products are affected.
Why is the government being so slow to act on this?
And in regards to the lady's comment before about how it's
travelling from Romania to France to Sweden,
so it's too big, that's a bit of a cop-out answer.
Saying, "Well, this task was too big,
"so we're not going to take it on," isn't right.
If the task is too big, you need to take it on.
The panel listening carefully to this,
but we'll hear from one or two other people.
You, sir, the man in the blue and white striped shirt, yes.
I think the Food Standards Agency is in the same situation
the financial services was in four years ago.
I think the government hasn't got any hold of what's going on
and it's...I think we're just being run by a bunch of Eton grads
who don't know how to run a country.
The man in the bright blue with silver on. You there, sir.
I think what the problem is is the government is, erm, it's not
putting enough funds into the study of where the meat comes from.
This horse meat, you know, horses get given this drug called,
-what is it? Phenylbutin?
Now, that is obviously hazardous to humans
so surely that should be a red light for the government to say,
"Hang on! Why aren't we really being stringent with this
"and protecting people's lives?" We can't really buy meat
if everyone's going to start becoming ill because A,
people are going to lose faith in the producers, supermarkets,
the government, and then it'll just be a total collapse.
OK, Mary Creagh, do you think it's as dangerous as that, bute,
because somebody was on television saying you'd have to
eat 500 hamburgers a day to get even a trace of this bute.
That's presumably in adults,
but the dose for children would be a lot lower.
-So you're alarmed by it, are you?
What I say is that I raised the issue
of bute-contaminated horses being slaughtered in the UK
with ministers on the floor of the House of Commons
exactly three weeks ago.
I had evidence that they were entering the food chain.
What I want to know is,
why did the government then start testing every horse in UK abattoirs,
but still keep releasing them into the human food chain?
That is simply not good enough.
Ministers have been asleep on the job on this,
and I'm afraid they cannot just keep hiding behind FSA officials,
when actually they've been
so catastrophically slow to act, and I just want to come back on this...
George Galloway said about Labour.
Well, and the gentleman at the front who said we ended random testing.
We did not end random testing. The last time we had intelligence
that horse may have been in the food chain was 2003.
There was no evidence from then to 2010...
GALLOWAY: That's not random. That's intelligence-led.
That's right, it's intelligence-led
and the last piece of intelligence that the government received
was in November last year when the food safety authority of Ireland
said, "We're going to start testing for horse,"
and they thought, "That's lovely. Ring us when you've got the results."
Look, I think we're really got to be very careful here.
You've been attacked for being dozy on the job.
OK, I think we've got to be really careful here.
Yes, we need to have strong regulation in an area like this,
but also we should expect that people who are producing products,
putting them on our shelves, labelling them as beef
and they're not beef, they have to be held to account.
And we need to make sure that people are not let off the hook
here by some political will to try and point score...
But can I clarify one point, Maria.
Is it, in your view, the government's job to make sure,
if I buy a can, and it says "Beef,"
is it your job to make sure it is beef or somebody else's job?
I think it's absolutely squarely the role of both the manufacturer
and also the retailer
to make sure the products that are on their shelves...
-And not yours?
-..are absolutely as they should be.
Everybody is blaming government, both governments,
for not checking that that's beef.
The government has got a role to check that,
-but the primary responsibility...
-CREAGH: You haven't done it.
-The primary responsibility...
-You haven't conducted any...
..when you're dealing with a mass fraud on a pan-European scale...
GALLOWAY: David, they're trying...
All right, you say the government has a role,
but I'd like to know what the role is,
whether you've been fulfilling it. George Galloway.
They're faffing around in this debate.
The Liberal Democrats and the Tories want to blame it on criminals.
I may say, if it's all just a criminal matter,
why did the Tories take three weeks to call in the police?
Because that's what it took them before they asked
the police in this country to start treating it as a crime.
But this goes to the heart of the matter.
There are consequences to deregulation.
The Tories are always talking about,
"We need to get rid of red tape and deregulate this."
These are the kind of consequences that occur when you deregulate,
and there are consequences to sacking public servants.
So George, you want to let the manufacturers off the hook, then?
No, but I hold you responsible for what happens in this country,
not Findus! We didn't elect Findus! We can't remove Findus!
But we can elect and remove you, and I promise you, the British people
-are about to do it.
-So you'll turn a blind eye
to people who are potentially committing a fraud?
Not a blind eye, throw them in jail instead of in the House of Lords!
The House of Lords is filled with...I don't want a blind eye!
I want you to face up to this!
If you sack police officers, there are consequences.
If you sack Food Standards Agency inspectors, there are consequences.
It's time to end this cutting of public service workers as if
public servants were some rubbish that can be easily dispensed of!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Just like to point out that in 2008,
when the banks collapsed all over the entire world,
we blamed Gordon Brown and Alastair Campbell,
at least the Tory government, the Tory people did.
Now that the entire country's food processing is in problems,
we need to blame David Cameron and George Osbourne.
The buck stops with them.
Food labelling is a competence of the European Union, actually.
We don't know if you can have any control over it any more.
What happens happens in Brussels.
The crime that happened happened in France.
The thing is, George, if your 700 food inspectors,
you could have 7,000 of them,
they would never be able to probe every freezer, every
supermarket, cos we've got millions of lines of food in this country...
Is it better now there's 700 less? Is that what you're saying?
Are you arguing it's better that we've got 700 less?
Also, their job is not to look for horses,
their job is to look for food safety, which means food poisoning,
and there are 500 people who die every year of food poisoning
and that's what the FSA does.
It doesn't go around, to answer your question,
checking to see if horses, perhaps it should,
but if that's what these guys were doing if they were back,
perhaps...they probably would not have detected this. Now that...
CREAGH: No, Fraser, you said that it's a European competence.
This government has blocked attempts by the European Commission
to get country-of-origin labelling on processed meats.
They blocked it in 2011.
Owen Patterson went to Europe yesterday, came back and said,
"I want this labelling in by December 31st."
Suddenly, he's had a Damascene conversion to European regulation.
The Euro-sceptic suddenly wants more of it!
It's been an extraordinary week in parliament where
we've had Bill Cash and Christopher Chope,
the arch Euro-sceptics suddenly saying,
"The European Commission has got to do something about this!"
We don't have the power to do it any more in our own country.
That's a convenient Tory myth to cover up the fact that the
Food Standards Agency, when it was set up by Labour,
was a world leader in the whole area
and it was independent from government.
-Did it work well, given the results?
-It worked well, and this government,
when it came in, removed nutritional labelling to health,
it removed compositional labelling, what is in the product,
over to Defra. It's Defra ministers
that are responsible for the labelling of your food.
And you think it is possible to check hamburgers,
tinned food, the whole range of things if Defra
is doing its job properly? If Defra is doing its job properly?
Defra has moved it back in-house. It is clearly not the right place
for it to be. They've broken up the system.
They've got to get on with it, put it right. If the system
can't tell us if our food is fit to eat,
the system is not fit for purpose.
Not fit to eat, it's whether it's what it says.
That's fit to eat. We don't want to eat beef when it's actually horse.
You're making a very dangerous blur here.
The lady's children are asking, is this food safe to eat?
To listen to the Labour Party in the last few days
you would get the impression that there was a health hazard,
and there isn't. Horses are actually fine.
In The Spectator we've got a guide about what to drink
with horsemeat in this week's magazine.
If it is coming in from criminals, I doubt
they've followed proper food hygiene standards on the way in.
Let me just quote...
The Chief Medical Officer...
I don't know whether you trust what she says,
but she says a person would have to eat 500 to 600
100% horsemeat burgers, just think of this, a day,
to get close to consuming a human's daily dose of bute. Who knows?
The woman up there, the blonde lady on the right. Yes.
What we haven't mentioned is actually who is eating these products.
It is the poor, the people on low incomes,
those that have been made unemployed by the Government.
People whose benefits are going to get squeezed because of bedroom tax,
council tax changes and so on. These are the people
that are buying the value products. It's the poor
that are being defrauded,
both by the way the Government is treating them
and scapegoating them and by now by these alleged criminal gangs,
which are making their money out of other people's poverty.
A lot of people are having to go to food banks because they can't afford
to buy the food that they choose.
So those that can buy their food are buying the lowest things
because that's all they can afford
-and they are the ones being conned.
On that note, though I know a number of you are waiting to speak,
we'd better move on. We've got a lot of questions to come.
You know at home you can join this debate by Twitter or by text.
Our hashtag is #bbcqt. We've got this new idea running
of a Twitter panellist who comments.
You can comment on what the Twitter panellist says.
It's Mark Pack form the website libdemvoice tonight.
He's @bbcExtraGuest. If you want simply to text, 83981
and the little red button will tell you what others are saying.
Let's go on to another question. This is from Michael Joyce, please.
Should the 10p tax be reinstated?
This is the rage today apart from the beef. Should the 10p tax,
which was abolished by Gordon Brown, be reinstated?
It seems all the parties are circling around this,
with the Tory backbenchers saying it should be
and Labour saying it may be, and I don't know where we've got to.
Maria Miller, would you like to see the 10p tax reinstated?
Certainly I want to see the taxation regime in this country
work better, particularly for people on lower incomes.
That's what we've been working on
for the last two-and-a-half years.
My concern is the way the Labour Party have said they are going
to pay for this, through what they call a mansion tax.
That may sound on the surface very attractive.
Yes, it does.
But when you try and work out how that is
actually going to happen,
that anybody in this room who pays council tax would then be subject
to their house being revalued. I think that if you remember
the record of Labour
under the last Government, where they doubled council tax
for every single household in this country,
saw the equivalent of a doubling of their council tax,
I think we should all be very concerned indeed.
-What would a mansion be?
-I'm not sure I've seen the detail of that.
-£2 million. £2 million. It's nicked straight from the...
Poll tax, Maria. You're old enough to remember the poll tax?
It is not that the mansions over £2 million would just be revalued,
every household would need to be revalued.
Let's come back to the 10p tax. From the Tories' point of view,
are you in favour of it being reinstated?
The 10p rate?
We've already cut taxes for 24 million people in this country.
-Yes or no?
-I'm not going to write the budget.
-Would YOU like to see it?
-I would like a tax regime that supports
-people on lower incomes, whether it's a 10p tax...
-You're the government.
-So you don't rule out the 10p thing?
-I don't rule it out. We need to
understand how it is going to be paid for.
That's the concern that I have got.
You would like to see it in the budget if it could be paid for?
I think anything that reduces taxation's got to be a good thing.
-Well, I hope George is listening.
The 10p isn't good enough. What we've done so far
is raise the starting point of tax. All the people
who used to be in that 10p band and then Labour put it up to 20p,
but that's all the people who used to be in that 10p band
are no longer paying tax at all. They are completely out
of the income tax category. We are getting it up to,
by the end of this Parliament the starting point of tax
will be £10,000 of earnings, that's up from
£6,490 when Labour was in power.
We are arguing that that should carry on up to the point
that you are looking at minimum wage.
Somewhere around the £12,000 mark. That is much more effective.
It genuinely takes those people out of tax,
but it means that other people on the standard rate
also benefit from the higher start.
Are you in favour of the 10p tax being reinstated?
-It is not enough. It is not enough.
-But you are saying
all these other things have been done.
No, it will be done by 2015 up to 10,000.
It's now at 9,000. It has got to go on to 12.
That's a far better way to use your money. It's more costly
but it is far better than this silly business of a 10p rate
affecting £1,000 of income.
I thought the Liberal Democrats wanted this?
We want to raise the threshold, which is a far more effective way.
The people who used to pay 10p,
on that band which Labour raised,
are out of tax altogether. That's exactly what we should be doing.
Our tax cuts have to come to people at the bottom
and people on standard rate.
Are you against what Ed Miliband said today?
-It is insufficient.
-But are you against it?
I'm not going to water down what I'm talking about
and what my colleagues are fighting for in order to do a sort of
pettiness of the Ed Miliband.
-It's not sufficient. It's too petty.
The man in the middle with the black hair. You're waving, not drowning.
In the last decade, Labour put the personal allowance up just over
£2,000. When you removed that 10p rate, you clobbered
some of the most poorest people.
My brother is only earning £11,000 and that really hurt,
so Labour don't put this gimmick in, "Here's a 10p"
and whack it back off poor people, because it is not fair
and it gives them false hope.
Don't do it just to take it away from people,
-it's not fair.
Well, in response to your point, what we are
saying today is yes, removing that 10p tax band
was a mistake and here's what we plan to do
at the next election to put it right. We are clear
that we've had some very difficult economic news.
The Bank of England talking about
living standards being squeezed over the next three or four years.
We know the economy is flatlining.
The economy shrank over the last three months,
so it is imperative that we have
a recovery that is led from the bottom upwards,
not from the top downwards,
which is what this Government is doing.
And Susan's colleagues voted for a tax cut for people
earning over £1 million a year.
They are going be getting a £100,000 tax cut this year.
We don't think that's the right way.
We don't want trickledown economics. We want bottom-up recovery.
That's what this country needs.
In ten years though, you only put the personal allowance up £2,000.
That's not good enough. Ten years and only 2,000.
You need to look at the whole package,
in terms of working tax credits.
I know that didn't work for people
-who were single and without children.
-Or the young people.
We lifted a million people out of poverty. We lifted a million
children out of poverty, a million pensioners.
What about young working people?
A significant achievement in dealing with the problem
of poverty in our society.
Can I just check one thing? Do you want to see this 10p tax rate
as part of the next manifesto?
We've said today this is our clear direction of travel.
-It is a priority for us.
-What's a direction of travel?
Unlike George Osborne, who promised to raise the inheritance tax
threshold to over £1 million, and this week said he
wasn't able to do that, we are not going to make promises
that we can't keep. We must not make promises
and then renege on them.
We want a fairer tax system and we are consulting
on how to get it absolutely right.
-So nobody can believe you will do it.
-No. It's not
even in their manifesto. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls said
it's not going to be in the manifesto, so what is today
-It's not a manifesto promise,
-we're two years away from the election.
-Well, there you go.
Absolute waste of time. You've given people false hope.
I thought that it was a promise.
I must have been driving up the M1 when this reneging on it occurred.
I was about to congratulate Mr Miliband
on finding some real Labour guts for a change,
to say that a situation where some people live in £2 million mansions,
and if they earn £1 million a year or more
they are getting a £100,000 tax cut
is the Tory-Liberal way.
The Labour way is
to cut the taxes of the people at the bottom.
Not least because the people who earn the least,
if you give them more by cutting their taxes,
they will spend it, and they will spend it here,
in our shops, on local services, local goods,
and that will drive the economy.
If you give a £100,000 tax rebate to a millionaire,
he is spending it in Monte Carlo or spending it on his villa in Nice,
or on another foreign tour. APPLAUSE
The reality is the poorest people, the best engine for the economy
is to cut the taxes of the people at the bottom.
George, when you were in the governing party you did not do it.
Let me tell you something.
-Thanks for the reminder.
I'm one of the very few people who told Gordon Goldfinger Brown,
the man that sold off all our gold at the bottom of the market,
I told him that scrapping the 10p tax rate was a grave mistake,
one which has been acknowledged by Balls and Miliband today.
OK. The man there in the second... very far back?
What is the Government doing about tax evasion in this country?
Tax evasion? It's a slightly different point.
Anyway, Fraser Nelson?
The important thing about the 10p tax is that
there's even less to it than meets the eye. Ed Balls was asked,
what will it mean to the worker? And he said £2 a week.
When you withdraw the benefits and Working Tax Credits,
it works out at 66p a week.
That's what they call a promise, except it's not even a promise,
even that has been reneged upon. I think the low-paid in this country
deserve a lot better than these pitiful suggestions and overtures
that on close inspection just collapse.
One of the best things this coalition's done is cut tax
for the poor by lifting people out of tax altogether.
George talks about this as a Labour mission.
The Tories and the Liberal Democrats have done this,
that is the irony. We need to go further. Youth unemployment
is at crisis levels so I think we need to have a major tax cut
for the low-paid and by that, I would say
give people the equivalent of a month's extra salary a year.
That really would bring help to those that need it.
I wish to God we would stop
talking about these 10p tax things, which always end up being a con.
They sound nice to start with.
If the Labour Party was serious about helping working people
it would come up with something that would genuinely
leave more money in their pockets. APPLAUSE
Just briefly, but a similar point, how would you pay for that?
-There's many ways you could do it. There's lots of
waste in Government, for example.
I wouldn't be against borrowing more money to pay for that too.
I don't think we have got the option of not cutting taxes
because the Government's heading
for economic failure and probably political failure as well.
So increase the deficit? You're a Keynesian?
-This is basic economics, really.
Why don't they do it if it's basic economics?
Good question. They did it in Sweden recently. It worked.
We have talked about whether the 10p will affect poorer people
and Fraser mentioned people out of work. A question from
David Hawkes which is relevant to this, please? David Hawkes.
Should people on benefits be made to work somewhere like Poundland
to justify receiving their money?
This is the case of Cait Reilly, who complained
that she had been forced to work at Poundland
or told she would have to work there or she would lose her benefits
and she took it to court and the court decided something rather odd
which was, perfectly all right to tell people to go to Poundland,
but that they hadn't got the procedure right,
as far as I can understand it. George Galloway?
I want to beatify Cait Reilly.
I think she has done Britain a great service by
taking this case and the court, by its decision, has done so too.
This is a young woman who had a voluntary job, unpaid, in a museum
who was forced by Iain Duncan Smith to take a job in Poundland.
That's what we have become. Poundland.
Where people are frog-marched into working in Poundland
and told that they are actually doing a job.
We are deporting people from Camden, from Newham
to the north of the country.
We are cutting public expenditure on a massive scale.
We are introducing a bedroom tax,
which I warn you now in case I don't get a chance later,
this is David Cameron's poll tax, the bedroom tax.
This is Britain today. A land where you go into a cheap chicken shop
and you get horse,
where the only economy in many of our northern cities is Poundland
and where the Tory answer is to force people into working
in these dodgy places for pitiful wages rather than a real economy,
the one that we need to build.
-I'm not sure I really accept the way
that George is talking down the really important role
that work experience can have in many people's lives.
-Actually, the facts here...
OK, the facts, because we can't let facts get in the way
of a good story, the facts are, the court said the Government was quite
right to use things like work experience to give people
the opportunity to get into jobs.
These are people who are on Jobseeker's Allowance,
they are not people who are unpaid
and it gave them the sort of experience which might get them
their next job. Surely we should be applauding organisations
that do that and give young people in this country the opportunity
to get the skills to get ahead. I just don't think it's right
to be writing people off to a lifetime on benefits.
Let's give them the opportunity to get ahead.
She was working in a museum. You put her into Poundland, for God's sake.
Let's be clear here.
All the court said was that there was a technical issue
around the Government policy but the main thrust of the policy
was perfectly acceptable and I think that's something that's important.
I think we should be again applauding those employers
that go out of their way
to give young people in this country a chance.
-OK. You, sir?
-Whilst it's important for young people
to get experience, you have to make sure it's relevant
to their skills and in getting them into a job. There is no point giving
it to a person who's one, volunteering,
two, educated at university
to then force them to do cleaning jobs, menial jobs that
don't actually help them get into work.
You have to provide meaningful placements that will support them
in developing skills and getting into real job prospects,
not just simply using it as a form of punishment
because you are on benefits. It has to be driven by providing skills
to help people into jobs.
Is she suffering a form of punishment, in your view?
I'm a huge fan of work experience. If I had been unemployed
for over a year and my volunteer job wasn't doing me any good in terms
of getting an employer to take me seriously and somebody offered me
a few weeks or couple of months' work somewhere, I'm getting my benefits
so in a sense I owe back I think for my benefits. I would take it.
If one of my children were in that situation,
I would tell them to take it,
because when you are in a job, even if it's in that set-up,
everyone knows it's far easier to then get another job.
You go and apply and you can push. I think work experience,
I don't regard jobs as particularly menial.
There are all kinds of jobs in which you can learn
a whole series of different experiences. It's terrific if you
can find something that fills a real gap in your training.
I think that would be fantastic. But I would go for work experience.
Cait Reilly was a geology graduate
who wanted to work in the museum sector. So surely she was...
I don't want to talk about one particular individual
but we can at least accept, can't we,
that her CV wasn't selling her to employers?
They weren't coming out offering her jobs, so she's either in a situation
of saying "I will take nothing, I'll stay on benefits till I get a job
"in the area I want," or you have to compromise
and take jobs in other areas. That's what I would do personally.
I will take any job rather than be unemployed
and I'd give the same message to my children.
From there you build up and find the job in your field.
I don't have a problem with work experience.
-I think we ought to really respect that.
The man in spectacles.
I think the problem is, and why the girl was probably so angry
is that another big failing of the Lib Dems,
the rise in tuition fees and things like that,
increasingly people aren't going to put up with this sort of thing.
She wouldn't be paying under the Lib Dem system,
she wouldn't be paying fees up front
and wouldn't be paying her loan back until she was earning £21,000
and earning it back at a lower rate.
Why did you pledge the opposite then before the last election?
Why did you sign in blood that you would scrap tuition fees?
We were wrong.
I want to go to the back of the audience
because there are many people up there with hands up
who've not had a chance at the moment.
There is a woman in the second row from the back. Yes. You, madam.
I was just going to say, there are a lot of things wrong
with the welfare state, but I'm glad it's there.
I would rather have it here than it not be there.
And I think that a lot of people who claim benefits
have previously been in work and paid their stamp.
-It's not like they're getting something for nothing.
And the man six along. You with the spectacles on, sir. Yes.
I understand that Miss Reilly is now working in a supermarket,
so it looks like perhaps that scheme
was particularly effective in her case.
Well, I think it comes back to the issue of competence, doesn't it?
Because what we had, as you say,
is a judgement that says there's nothing wrong with work experience,
but the way the government laid the regulations, made the regulations,
means it was not legal.
And the failure to explain to the young lady
her right to refuse work, etc, means that the government
laid itself wide open and had this very embarrassing court defeat.
I started my working life in British Home Stores
and I did tights and I did lights
for two years as a Saturday girl.
And I don't think... It was a paid job,
and I learned an awful lot about customer service
and about cleaning and all sorts of things.
So I'm not against work experience,
but what we can't have is a work experience programme
that isn't just for a few months, this can go on for two years,
and people only go on it
when they've been unemployed for nine months.
You cannot have people coming out after two years of work experience
and nine months on the dole with nothing to show for it.
There's got to be training alongside it
and there's got to be some sort of training pathway
and hope that there's going to be something better.
We cannot just park people on work experience programmes
and say, "Oh, something will turn up."
I think there is no doubt that
the government messed up this case. The court has said that.
But it's important to draw a distinction. The easier thing to do
would be to write the welfare cheque and walk away.
I think one of the great failures of the last Labour government
is that that's what it did.
It took the easy route, to write the welfare cheque, walk away,
and basically condemn millions of people to poverty.
Now, a welfare state, you're right, it's worth something.
It needs to be protected, it needs to work.
But right now, it's creating the most expensive poverty in the world.
That's what we're doing here.
Actually condemning people to live in these jobless, workless ghettos,
who will never be able to get back into the habit of work.
And when the government tries to do better, it will get it wrong,
as it did in this case, but I think, thank God it's trying.
Because the alternative, leaving these people,
is something that we just can't afford to do any more.
And I'll take one more point, from the person
with the tinted spectacles in the third row from the back.
I think part of our problem is in education,
that we're not educating the people that society actually needs.
There are a hell of a lot of people today who go to "yooni",
as they call it, and get a degree,
and then find they can't get a job
that's suited to the intellectual level.
And I don't think we're training enough creative and practical people
for the creative, practical jobs -
plumbers, gas fitters, people like that. That is part of the problem.
You're absolutely right. We need to do much more on vocational,
technical education in this country.
For too long there has been a focus
-on the aspiration of 50% to university.
-And not enough
for young people who have these creative talents.
We've got apprenticeships, which you guys did not work at.
We've also got a work programme...
We now have one million people on apprenticeships.
We have a work programme now where you're more likely
to get a job if you're not on it than if you are on it, Fraser.
-That is not a welfare system.
We've got a good heated-up audience here on politics,
and we've got four politicians
on the panel and a political commentator.
So I want to go to the next question and widen this out a bit,
and ask you as politicians not just to list your policies,
but to listen carefully to what the question says. Elliott Hill, please.
With public scepticism towards MPs, similarities between major parties
and a decrease in party membership, is party politics dying?
Is party politics dying? You start, Fraser Nelson.
I think people talk a lot about apathy in Britain,
about how people can't be bothered to vote any more,
but if you look at the amount of engagement in Britain,
we're actually an incredibly passionate country
when it comes to people going on marches, they attend protests,
you get groups like 38 Degrees who did brilliant protests.
The Taxpayers' Alliance and fuel tax.
People get passionate,
but they're not very excited at the menu that they get on polling day.
A lot of people can't bring themselves to choose
one of these parties who'll probably break their promise anyway
if they go into coalition with somebody else.
I don't think our politics in Britain is broken,
but I do think our party political system is broken.
These guys try to copy each other too much.
They don't follow through on what they say they will do.
And I really do think that we need
renewal of politics in this country,
because the way things are going, really,
the turnout is going to get lower and lower and lower,
because people think "Well, what's the point?
"No matter who you vote for the government still gets in."
The accusation is that political parties, not just the Conservatives,
your party, but all political parties, don't follow through
with what they say and people have become cynical about it as a result.
I simply don't agree with that.
When I go into schools and colleges in my constituency
and I hear the passion that young people have for issues
like the environment, like climate change, like,
I was talking recently to a group
about the work of Amnesty International.
I think there is an enormous passion amongst young people
for political issues.
I think the challenge for all of us at the moment is to make sure
that we're communicating to that new generation,
make sure that we're showing them the very different approaches
that each of the parties take to these issues.
And I do think there's a difference.
The real challenge at the moment is something new for our country -
well, for the modern day - which is coalition government.
And making sure that individuals know that, voters know that,
whilst you can work with a party on issues,
there are still considerable differences between your parties
on many of those issues
that you may want to vote on at the general election.
I think that's an interesting challenge.
But you think people are not sceptical towards MPs, as Elliott Hill suggests?
I think of course there'll always be scepticism about people in power,
but I think in terms of politics,
the important role that politics has in the lives of all of us,
and particularly young people, I don't see that.
Too many similarities, Susan Kramer, between the major parties.
You got involved in coalition,
you may be in another coalition, I suppose, after the next election.
Well, we think coalition has a lot to offer.
-Because, when I talk to people...
When I talk to people and they see this sort of, if you like,
the time when party politics is the sort of clash,
at Prime Minister's Questions for example,
they regard that as sort of entertainment.
But actually they want people to work together.
And I do think this sort of pressure, particularly when we're in
a time of financial austerity, with such economic difficulties,
the notion of people having to work together,
that there aren't instant answers, that it's the art of the possible,
that you have to move things,
particularly when you're trying to remedy
the damage that's been done to an economy
essentially over a 20-year period,
you're trying to change all those fundamentals,
get people to have skills, get businesses started,
get the banks functional again after all that they've done to themselves.
Hang on, you're going to policies now.
Is party politics dying?
Is the politics, the commitment to MPs, was the question.
Well, I think we are in a period where cooperation
and consensus have a lot more to offer if people look at it that way.
As for MPs, I think it's true.
With the scandals that we had in the past, MPs lost trust,
and I think you can say, rightly so.
And I recognise I'm part of the political group that has,
collectively, if not individually, lost that trust.
And we have to earn it again.
But I do think that consensus has a lot to offer.
Let's hear from our audience. The person in purple there,
then I'll go back up there. You.
I was just wondering, if you say that you're all fighting for the people,
when do you listen to the people that you are there for?
You think that doesn't...?
You don't listen to the people. You've got to listen to the people.
-What THEY want.
-Are you talking about any particular party, or all MPs?
-George Galloway. Does George Galloway listen?
Does George listen to you?
I think the only people
that's a party for the people is Labour.
Because they actually listen to the people.
George Galloway, what do you make of the main question?
Well, I agree with Fraser Nelson, and that doesn't happen often!
Actually, people in this country
are fantastically interested in politics.
I have hundreds of thousands of people following me on Twitter
and Facebook, and not only are they absolutely engaged
with all the vital political issues of the day,
they are extremely well-informed,
often times better informed than I am
about some of the issues that are in front of us this evening.
The problem is in this country,
the political parties,
Tweedledee, Tweedledum, Tweedledee and a half -
if a backside could have three cheeks, these would be
the three cheeks. There is no difference.
We've heard that one before.
-It's a good one, though.
-People say "stop me if you've heard it before,"
-I have it, George.
-Why don't you think of something memorable
to say that people will remember?
I will be slapping yours at the end of the show.
CHEERING AND LAUGHTER
The reality is, these three parties believe
that politics has only an inch in which we can differ.
That we differ about the colour of the walls
that the we'll paint the departments in Whitehall.
That it'll be a penny off this, a penny on that.
In reality, people know that this country isn't working.
That our institutions are in a state of collapse,
and that a radical change is necessary.
And if you put forward a radical change,
people may or may not agree with the radical change you propose,
but they are ready to listen to it.
My last point is this, and I'm sorry, I don't want to get personal.
But we have a parliament full of expenses frauds.
We have a parliament that's almost always on holiday.
Since I was elected 11 months ago,
Parliament has been on holiday almost 50% of the time.
And the rest of the time they're filling in their expenses forms.
That's the face of British politics so far,
including in the House of Lords.
Unless I'm deaf, George, unless I'm deaf,
when you arrive, they complain that you're never there now.
-I'm there every day!
-Where are you? We never see you.
I am in Parliament every day.
And my expenses are virtually the lowest in England.
And people are following what I have to say
because I'm different from these three cheeks of the same backside.
If you were actually doing your job as an MP,
when we're in recess, what we're supposed to be doing
is actually in our constituencies working with our constituents.
You're lying on beaches!
All right, the woman behind you, four behind. Four rows behind.
Isn't it our democratic system that's actually broken?
I go to a polling booth and have to vote for the best of a bad bunch,
because I don't want the Tories to get in.
It's not who I want to vote for,
but it's who's going to stop a different party getting in.
If AV had gone in or we did have proportional representation,
I would be able to vote for who I believed in
-rather than who would stop the Tories from getting in.
-Well, I don't think our society is broken.
And I don't think politics is broken.
And I think that George Galloway's rhetoric about
how awful everything is is actually dangerous and deeply, deeply cynical.
I'm ambitious for this country.
I didn't come into politics to just make,
to govern slightly better or make little changes.
I came into politics because I wanted to change the world.
I started as a local councillor, I carried on being elected to be an MP.
I go out, every Friday when I'm at home in Wakefield
I go out and listen to the people,
and meet them picking up their children from the school gates.
In the snow, in the hail, in the sun.
I've got 30-odd schools and I go round every one of them.
I listen to what people tell me. When they tell me stuff, I act.
I take out the police with me sometimes.
And I'm passionate about the role that politicians can play.
If you go to countries where politics really is broken,
I went to South Sudan last year, I went to Rwanda, I went to the Congo,
I've been to places where terrible things
have happened because of catastrophic political failure.
I don't think people in this country really understand
-just how lucky we are with our system.
Can I go back to Elliott Hill, who asked the question?
What do you think of what you've heard? What's your view?
I think there's a big difference between passion over politics
and passion for parties in politics.
I know it's a lot...
A few panel members sort of talking about Amnesty International,
I think Maria Miller said,
and people being really interested in these political issues,
and that's definitely true.
But whether they're so interested in parties is a different matter.
I think they're on the way out if they don't do something.
And the minute the public do realise that parties are expendable
and politics can work very well without them,
it might well change the entire political system.
-To more independent MPs, you mean?
The man in the white suit. You, sir.
The thing with talking about coalition
and working together as being the solution
to the political problems, I have to disagree with that.
When the Liberal Democrats
voted against boundary changes for constituencies very recently.
Therefore the public see
that politicians are playing their own game.
"If it's in their favour, we'll vote against it."
But that's playing against what the public need,
which is a fair say in who gets elected.
Fraser Nelson, do you agree with that, on this boundary change point?
Yeah. This is the thing, politicians go on about constitutional reform,
but only the type that benefits the own party. It's really depressing.
You broke the deal, you can pretty much write the script.
But I'd say to Elliott, if you think the situation is bad now,
then wait until they get state funding for political parties.
I mean, right now they're losing members,
all the main political parties, and they've got to find financing.
If they say, "Nobody wants to give us money, let's get the government
"to give us a bailout," that's still on the cards,
which is why it's so important it should never happen.
They should be forced, all of them - Labour, Tory, Lib Dems -
to go and find ideas that people think are worth supporting.
Either do that or go bust.
And the drop in membership is absolutely staggering.
The Tories have halved under Cameron alone,
-In the '50s, the Tories had three million members.
-Labour had a million members. You, sir, on the left, here.
Doesn't the panel think that the despondency shown
by the general public at the moment towards political parties,
is it not because before an election, they promise,
all parties promise this, that and the other,
so they vote them in, and then after they renege on what they promise?
-Has it ever been different, in your view?
Every single election, they've always gone back on what they said.
Parties used to be very different, but now
the Tories are giving us just as much debt
as Labour was planning to,
-so you do wonder what all the fuss was about.
We're a bit out of time, but because of where we are,
I'm just going to take this question from Joseph Sharp,
and it'll be a yes or no around the panel. Joseph Sharp, please.
I'd just like to ask the panel,
where should Richard III be buried - Leicester, Westminster or York?
-Or indeed Gloucester, as some have said.
Has to be York. He built a mausoleum for himself there.
BOOING AND LAUGHTER
And a person's last wishes should be honoured!
-He wanted it to be York, it must be York.
We've made sure that Leicester University has got some say in this,
and I think there's sort of a rule generally
that when you exhume bodies from the ground,
you try and rebury them somewhere close to where they were taken out.
OK, Mary? That's one for Leicester.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
Westminster, where his wife is?
Richard has been lying under Leicester council
social services car park for the last 500 years,
I think he deserves a decent burial in Leicester Cathedral.
-APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
I thought you were saying "Findus" for a moment!
-Not that bad!
-I think he should be buried
with his wife, Anne Neville,
who's buried in Westminster. I know I would certainly like to be.
If he were alive, which obviously is not,
he would probably want to be with her. Most people do.
That's it. I'm sorry.
It's perfectly obvious where everybody here wants him buried.
Our hour is up. We'll be, oh, we're going to be in St Paul's Cathedral!
We didn't mention St Paul's!
St Paul's Cathedral, where Nelson is buried.
SUSAN: Richard I is buried in three different places.
-They kind of broke him up and scattered them.
We've got to stop, Susan.
-I like dissections!
And St Paul's Cathedral next week, and in fact it's the first time
question Time has come from St Paul's.
Our panellists are going to include Vince Cable,
Michael Heseltine and Diane Abbott.
And the week after that we're going to be at the site
of the Hampshire by-election in Eastleigh.
We'll be going live just after the polls close on that by-election
triggered by Chris Huhne's plea of guilty, of course, in the courts.
If you'd like to come either to St Paul's or to Eastleigh,
you can apply by our website.
The address is on the screen.
Or you can call us, 0330 123 99 88.
You'll be catechised by our administrators.
It would be extremely nice to see you for those two occasions.
My thanks to our panel here,
and to all of you who came to take part in this programme.
From Question Time here in Leicester,
until next Thursday, good night.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
David Dimbleby chairs Question Time from Leicester. On the panel are: secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Maria Miller; shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh; Liberal Democrat peer Susan Kramer; Respect MP for Bradford West, George Galloway; and editor of the Spectator, Fraser Nelson.