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Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Sunday, 15 January 2006

Jon Sopel interview

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

On Politics Show, Sunday 15 January 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • Barry Sheerman MP and David Willetts MP
  • Simon Hughes MP

Barry Sheerman MP
Barry Sheerman MP

Discussion with Barry Sheerman and David Willetts

JON SOPEL: We're joined now by the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, David Willetts, and from his home, by the Labour MP and Chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, Barry Sheerman. Barry Sheerman, a call for an independent enquiry in to this, what's your reaction.

BARRY SHEERMAN: I think that's unnecessary. I've only been thinking myself over the last days, that an enquiry by my committee and the Home Affairs Select Committee could sort this out in short order, because this is a serious matter, but it's something that we shouldn't panic about, one shouldn't rush around like headless chickens, but I'm sure the Home Affairs Select Committee, with a join enquiry, or even two separate enquires in to this, could in, with very short enquiries, sort this matter out and make a recommendation to the government.

JON SOPEL: David Willetts, is that good enough for you.

DAVID WILLETTS: Well I hope that the Select Committee will investigate this whole question, but what we're focusing on is this particular point of how many people since 1997, who were sex offenders, have never the less been cleared by Ministers, to work in schools. What we need to know is who those people are and whether those decisions were rightly taken. We can't have Ministers investigating decisions that Ministers took, so what David Cameron and I are saying to-day is that we think an independent person, should quickly go through those specific decisions, so that they can check that they were rightly taken and ideally, this independent person would be an expert on child protection issues, just to see whether our children are safe with these people teaching in our schools.

JON SOPEL: What do you say to Barry Sheerman's point that there is a degree of hysteria over all of this.

DAVID WILLETTS: I think it's very important to keep things in perspective and I have tried in everything I have been saying in the past week, not to get hysterical and I think it's very important that we do things sensibly but I think it is reasonable to ask, how many people who have been put on the register of sex offenders, have been cleared to teach in schools. And if I may so, the best way to get rid of any hysteria, is to provide straight answers to questions like that; the reason why this keeps on going is that we have not yet had straight answers to questions like that.

JON SOPEL: Barry Sheerman, isn't that correct; there have been questions asked and it has been hard to fathom exactly what Ruth Kelly has been saying.

BARRY SHEERMAN: I suspect it takes time to actually find out, go through all the cases, and I take it the Secretary of State is trying to get this totally accurate, that's why she said give us over the weekend, to next week to come up with the definite figures. But you know, a lot of this just does show there's been a lot of confusion since 1997, when the Sex Offenders Register and List 99, seem to have been brought closer together and also much more complicated because this confusion between what a caution represent, and what a criminal conviction represents, and you know, what I've been saying over the last few days is let's get this right; in this country, yes, we want to protect children, and we have more protection with children, more laws, more enforcement than ever before in our country's history. On the other hand people do deserve still, justice in our country and they deserve to be tried by a court and to have a fair hearing; so let's get the balance right here, rather than kangaroo courts and people really losing their livelihood, their families and their lives, because the media seem to think this is a good thing to do.

David Willetts MP
David Willetts MP

DAVID WILLETTS: If I might come in on Barry, one - the irony is, that the kangaroo court in this case has been Education Ministers. We have had people placed on the Register of Sex Offenders, and we then had Education Ministers, acting as a kind of informal court of appeal, deciding whether or not those people should be placed on List 99, and permitted to work in schools. And I think that it's clear, this has almost been a matter of, sort of Ministerial whim, with the who was cleared or who wasn't.

JON SOPEL: (interjects and overlaps) Let me just ask you something quite specific. Do you make any distinction between List 99 and someone who has been cautioned and therefore appears on the Sex Offenders Register.

DAVID WILLETTS: Well I think, if we were to go down the route that Sir Michael Bechard proposed, and have a single register with all the names, we could then have professional advice about the extent to which these people, individually proposed a threat to schools.

JON SOPEL: So this list that the Department of Education keeps, which is sort of separate from the Sex Offenders Register, you just believe there should be one list and if you've been cautioned and charged with nothing, you should still never be allowed to go near a child.

DAVID WILLETTS: I certainly think there should be one list, and one of the lessons of this week has been the confusion caused by lots of different lists and we are just rediscovering a lesson that Sir Michael Bechard drew from the appalling murders in Soham. He said the problem was that there wasn't one list, and we needed one list; we still need one list. Now, my view is whatever arrangements you do for the future, whatever judgements you make for the future, Ministers saying that someone who is a sex offender, should never the less be permitted in to schools, I think those were very rash judgements, I think they were amateurish judgements, and to have taken them without consulting the police, and without informing head teachers, was very irresponsible.

JON SOPEL: Barry Sherman, do you accept that this has been badly handled as David Willetts has said, and we've spoken to a Labour back-bencher this morning, and he said, this has been appallingly badly handled, I have no time for the woman, Ruth Kelly, she's very bright but out of her depth in office.

BARRY SHEERMAN: I don't think that's true, I think that this has been handled in a way that I thought the statement to the House was a powerful statement and a reassuring statement, and of course we've had another, at least another two cases that have been found over the last couple of days. But the fact of the matter is, let's get back to the reality of this; we must make sure that people know when they're cautioned, what a caution means because many people cautioned, who are cautioned think it's a warning, don't think it's going to be a criminal record that will change their lives and stop them being a teacher or social worker or anything else, for the rest of their lives.

So I think in terms of British justice that and what we must look at over the next few days is the whole procedure of caution, that individuals know their rights and that they get a fair hearing because you know, I think if we, over this weekend, we have realised that many of us do not even know the difference between List 99 and the Sex Offenders List, and many people do not even understand what they are actually agreeing to, when they agree to a caution.

JON SOPEL: And Barry Sheerman, do you believe that it has been open season, almost a witch hunt on Ruth Kelly.

BARRY SHEERMAN: Well you know, these things, I've been in my job long enough to know these hue and cries come and they go and the test of a Minister is to keep their head down, keep on doing their job, and you know, you haven't got long concentration spans in the media, I think it will go away.

JON SOPEL: David Willetts.

DAVID WILLETTS: I think it's very complacent. I think the whole point, the reason why this is rumbling on and the reason why there is so much concern amongst parents and teachers, is that we're still not getting straight answers to straight questions from the Secretary of State; she doesn't appear to be clear herself exactly how List 99 works. She said to the House of Commons, that you are automatically put on List 99 and then you couldn't work in schools for the rest of your life, now we discover it's far more complicated.

JON SOPEL: So you think she should resign.

DAVID WILLETTS: I'm not in the game of these kind of putting - my concern is teachers and parents. To be honest, whether or not it's Ruth Kelly, is not the crucial point. I just want a minister who knows what they're talking about and gives us clear answers to the questions teachers and parents want answers to.

JON SOPEL: Okay we must leave it there. David Willetts, Barry Sheerman, both of you, thank you very much indeed.

End of interview

Simon Hughes MP
Simon Hughes MP

Interview with Simon Hughes

JON SOPEL: We're joined now by the Party's president and leadership contender, Simon Hughes; Simon Hughes, welcome to the Politics Show.

SIMON HUGHES: Thank you (overlaps) ...

JON SOPEL: Is it an ideological battle as Phil Willis said.

SIMON HUGHES: There are ideological differences, as Duncan Black said on your film. The Liberal tradition is a strong tradition and we're all united in that. And I'm in the mainstream of that great tradition, radical tradition, the tradition that gave us the Pension and the Health Service and I'm in the, I believe, in the middle of what is the Liberal Democrat tradition now; so there isn't a great ideological debate about that. We have core values, others are coming to our ground; Labour and Tory appear to be moving to our ground, but we will hold firm.

JON SOPEL: I'm just trying to establish whether it's a beauty parade where you can choose the person you think looks nicest on television and will give the best sound bites or whether it is about something about the style, the policies that will be pursued.

SIMON HUGHES: No, it will be partly about policies, let me give you an example. Let me give you an example. There are those of us who believe that is right to keep the National Health Service, the great security that gives people, as a public institution that we all pay for through our taxes. There are many of us who believe that the education system should remain something again, that it's financed by taxation. I believe that, I believe that they're absolutely central pillars of my ... (overlaps) ...

JON SOPEL: Whereas the economic Liberals don't.

SIMON HUGHES: Whereas there are some who would move down the road, towards a national insurance, private insurance system. I reject that. Now, that doesn't mean to say ...

JON SOPEL: So mark our cards for us because I'm sure there are an awful lot of people who are watching, an awful lot of people who will voting in the leadership contest, who say, I don't know where any of these ... are.


JON SOPEL: So you're sort of saying, you're on the social liberal side. Who are the economic Liberals in the ... (overlaps)

SIMON HUGHES: Well, I will talk about myself and my position. I want to lead a party which keeps those institutions that work well, but make them work better. The issue isn't for me - do you keep the National Health Service as a public health service, it's about making it locally accountable, so that people know that locally, their primary care, is something they could hold account. Now, I think you ought to do that at the level of local government. I also believe that education ought to be accountable through local representatives, so people - and policing for that matter; that's my - now, the other big issue people ask questions about is taxation; I have a very clear view about that. You need to have a fair, fairer tax system, a progressive tax ... (overlaps)

JON SOPEL: No one is going to say they're against a fairer tax system.

SIMON HUGHES: Well some, some people would say that that means that you mustn't ask the very well off to pay any more and you mustn't adjust other thing ... I, I say we're looking at these things, but we keep the principle.

JON SOPEL: Well okay, let's stay with that specific then on the - at the last election, those earning over a hundred thousand pounds should pay 50% tax, that was your policy then.

SIMON HUGHES: We all signed up to, it was the right policy.

JON SOPEL: All signed up to. Do you still believe that's the right policy.

SIMON HUGHES: We're reviewing all our tax policies. I'm not going to give you an answer. The whole exercise of the issue is having a review ... (overlaps)

JON SOPEL: But the exercise of standing as a leader is to give leadership.

SIMON HUGHES: Yes, it is.

JON SOPEL: So what is your view.

SIMON HUGHES: The leadership is that under my leadership, there will be a progressive tax formula, which we will work out in due course. But it will take in to account the fact that often, public money is badly spent. That we need to not spend money we shouldn't spend. I'll give you the example I've given elsewhere; when my colleagues took over my Borough Council in Southwark, we had the 8th highest council tax in London. They now have the eighth lowest council tax in London, because they have spent the money better. They've found savings, they've done the job better and I come from - John, my family background was, I came, I was brought up in a family, no spare cash, very tight finances, erm, I know that a lot of people in Britain are in debt, under financial pressure. I don't there to be one tax that people don't need because only, you should have only the taxes that we need to pay for the services we need.

JON SOPEL: Are you sending smoke signals that maybe will be deciphered tomorrow in the press saying, really, I think maybe I've been seen too much on the left on this argument.

SIMON HUGHES: Yes, I am. It's not a smoke signal, it's true.

JON SOPEL: Right, so you want lower taxes.

SIMON HUGHES: I, I want us to have no more tax than we need and we need to look, Chris Hune made the point yesterday, I've made it for twenty three years, we need to have, look at environmental taxation, we need to look at the range of taxes, because we need to make sure we use tax for a purpose. Tax isn't a theology, it's there for a purpose, but I know that we will be judged - let me be blunt with you. We've got a brilliant record of environmental policy, very good on civil liberties, on international policy. But why people sometimes don't vote for us, they don't think we're quite as trustworthy on pensions, on mortgages, on finances, and on their security. That's got to change, and when we run city councils like Liverpool and Newcastle and places like that, we do it very well.

JON SOPEL: Let me blunt, let me be blunt with you; you're tacking to the centre.

SIMON HUGHES: No, I'm in the mainstream of the great liberal tradition. I've never ever denied our great tradition. I'm in the mainstream of the party now, but I want us as a party, to be in the mainstream of British politics and we've so far, Charles did brilliantly, best ever result for eighty years, but we only have collected half the people who say they're traditionally liberal of view. The rest haven't come to us.

JON SOPEL: Let's just talk a moment about public services. You see David Cameron and Tony Blair embracing the idea of choice in public services. Do you support that.

SIMON HUGHES: The firs thing to do, I was at the conference all day yesterday.

JON SOPEL: No, no, specific question. Do you support increasing choice in public services.

SIMON HUGHES: That is not the - no, that is not the priority. The priority ...

JON SOPEL: Ah, right.

SIMON HUGHES: That is not the priority, that is not the priority. The priority is making sure that all the children who live in my part of South East London, or who live in Cheltenham, where I'm going this afternoon, or who live up in the North West of England or Wales ... got all of them, have good quality, that's the best - that's the first thing. I want to make sure that when relatives of mine or yours go to a hospital, they get absolutely 100% top service, and therefore the choice issue is a distraction.

JON SOPEL: So choice is a distraction. What about the provision of private care for example in the Health Service. 15% of operations maybe being done privately. Is that a distraction as well.

SIMON HUGHES: There are two, there are two - that hides two questions. One is, should there be a private sector and the answer is, of course, there will be a private sector in the Heath as there is in Education.


SIMON HUGHES: The second is, should the public health service be commissioning other people. We as a party, and I personally prefer, and we as a party have said, let's look at voluntary organisations. Let's look at mutual organisations, but there will sometimes ...

JON SOPEL: (overlaps) ... wanting to blunt with me, so you oppose that.

SIMON HUGHES: Well it's, it shouldn't be necessary. I want the system that the tax payer pays for, to be a system that makes unnecessary, people having to go and buy elsewhere.

JON SOPEL: But if that can mean that a hip replacement operation gets done more quickly, do people care about the delivery mechanism. They just want the end result.

SIMON HUGHES: Quite true. And that's why we have supported the extra investment in the Health Service, which Labour, to their, to their - to pay tribute to Labour have done, so that the operation and waiting times have come down, but the Health Service, still isn't organised properly yet. It's now a matter of organisation as well as resources, and that's where we need to concentrate - it needs to be accountable and organised in a way that makes sure that wherever people live, they know that the operations they can get, they will get, in a local hospital.

JON SOPEL: Now, you look at the polls at the moment and it suggests the most likely outcome of the next general election is likely to be a hung parliament. Where do you stand on the whole issue of coalition.

SIMON HUGHES: I, er, listened to the film you showed before, we hold firm. Let's imagine we are a party in a balanced parliament. There won't be any coalition, talks by me - we will deploy our votes to vote for what we believe is right and oppose what we believe is wrong. However, if the Labour or Tory leader, whoever they are, come to me and say, we're willing not just to be modernising and other things, or call us that, but we're going to modernise this building we work in; we're willing to have a system that means what people vote for they get; then I'll start talking to them.

JON SOPEL: Are you equidistant from Labour and the Tories.

SIMON HUGHES: ON that issue, yes.

JON SOPEL: So you don't feel it would be easier to go in to coalition with David Cameron or a Gordon Brown led Labour Party.

SIMON HUGHES: Jon, I'm absolutely not going to get bogged down by that because we win votes, not by talking about the deals we do, we win votes by persuading people of two things. One, that we will reflect their aspirations for Britain, and secondly, that we can win. And one of the failures of this party has been we haven't yet persuaded enough people we can win, and one of the talents I hope I have, is to not just enthuse our party and give us the mechanism of winning, but make sure the public realise we can do that and enthuse and excite the public too.

JON SOPEL: And a lot of people have voted for the Liberal Democrats in the past because they somehow believe you are above the party fray, that you're a nicer party than either the Conservatives or Labour, and they've watched the sort of blood bath that's ensued over the past couple of weeks. Do you think it has damaged you or do think, as Phil Willis seems to suggest in our film, that it's actually rather good, cos we're now seen as serious power-hungry people.

SIMON HUGHES: Well, I regret very much how the last two weeks have turned out. I think we didn't handle ourselves well, however, political parties have difficult times and come through them. The other parties have had them very recently, and they have come through there. I think it will paradoxically, as Phil said, make clear that we are a party that can make tough decisions. We make them every day up and down Britain, in government in Scotland, in London and elsewhere and I know we'll have to make them in the future and I'm ready to do that.

JON SOPEL: But do you think though that people will somehow think of you rather differently now.


JON SOPEL: And that has a bad side to it, a downside.

SIMON HUGHES: Yes it does and I regret some of things that have happened. On behalf of the Party, I'm the President, the Chairman of the Party, I regret that on behalf - I apologise on behalf of the party. We didn't in my view, treat Charles as he should have been treated entirely. I'm not saying there wasn't fault, he would say that himself probably, from him and others around him. But we didn't do it in the honourable way we should have done. However, we've moved on. Charles is big enough to come up with a brilliant final statement, and if I'm Leader, he will have a place with me as the Party would want him to do, cos he has a great future too.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Simon Hughes, thank you very much indeed.

End of interview

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday 22 January 2006 at Noon on BBC One.
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