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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 May 2006, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
Jon Sopel interview
Jim Knight spoke extensively about the upcoming third reading of the Education Bill, acknowledging that there is unlikely be much smaller a rebellion that at the second reading.

On Sir Alistair Graham's criticisms of Labour party finances, he said:
"...he was appointed by the Prime Minister, we set up a whole new process of monitoring and reporting on these issues. We changed the law in respect of these issues which demonstrates quite how serious Tony Blair was about cleaning up politics.
The fact that some of these things have come to light that have raised wide-spread concerns, have precisely been because we take it seriously enough to disclose these things.

JON SOPEL: But it wasn't because you tried to get round the system with whole loans for peerages thing.

JIM KNIGHT: Well all the parties were indulging in trying to find ways ..

JON SOPEL: Indulging in ...

JIM KNIGHT: Trying to find ways of getting finance in to their campaigns and you know, I think we are making the right moves across all the parties to try and get rid of that practice. I don't think it was right. And I think it is right we should get rid of it. "


Interviews on Sunday 21 May

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

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

On Politics Show, Sunday 21 May 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:

Jim Knight MP
Jim Knight MP

Jon Sopel interviewed Jim Knight MP

JON SOPEL: Well I'm joined now by the Minister for Schools, Jim Knight, Jim Knight, welcome to the Politics Show. How's it's going.

JIM KNIGHT: It's going well. We're listening hard to all shades of opinion and we're looking forward to getting the Bill through on Wednesday and that will be important for parents and particularly for the individual education of children up and down the country.

JON SOPEL: So what's the strength of the rebellion at the moment.

JIM KNIGHT: Well, I would say I'm not expecting huge movement from where we were at second reading. There's been some who are coming our way, some might go the other way but the important thing is that we get the Bill through, for the sake of education in this country.

JON SOPEL: So that's acceptable, over fifty rebelling, another twenty of so abstaining.

JIM KNIGHT: I would love to see everyone in the House of Commons supporting this Bill. I don't think that's going to happen and I've got to be honest with you but the important thing is that the measures on discipline, the measures on school food, the measures on diversity and choice for parents for their children go through.

JON SOPEL: So, so you've given - have you given up the arm-twisting and trying to persuade people, you just - it sounds to me like you're saying, well we accept it, there is nothing you can do now.

JIM KNIGHT: We are carrying on talking to our colleagues, they have come up with some very important issues that we addressed, we heard Ruth Kelly in that clip saying that we would address those at Committee and in Report stage, we're doing that in respect of fair admissions, in respect of the role of local authorities, safeguards about who can run Trusts. We've listened carefully to those proper concerns and addressed those with the consent of all parties.

JON SOPEL: Where one is the status quo and ten is really radical, where would you put this piece of legislation as it's now currently configured.

JIM KNIGHT: I don't want to get in to one to ten. What I'd say, this is an enab ... (fluffs) .. an enabling piece of legislation.

JON SOPEL: Well how radical is it then.

JIM KNIGHT: Erm, I think potentially it's very radical because it allows innovation, it allows schools to be freed up to deliver individualised, personalised education for every child in this country.

JON SOPEL: But you strengthened the Code of Admissions, which you didn't want to. You've backed down on the role of LEAs which you didn't want to do, you've backed down on the Secretary of State's veto.

JIM KNIGHT: We have listened carefully to colleagues and I think they've raised important points. It's perfectly valid to say where a Local Authority is doing a good job providing education, that they should be able to carry on starting new schools and carry on delivering, er, you know, providing that, that good education.

JON SOPEL: Well why didn't you say that in the first place. Tony Blair said he wanted LEAs to have a purely commissioning role. He didn't want them running schools.

JIM KNIGHT: Tony Blair along with everybody else has listened to perfectly valid concerns that have been expressed but the important ...

JON SOPEL: So he was wrong at the out-set.

JIM KNIGHT: I, I think it's right for us to say that where Local Authorities have demonstrated they can do a good job, that they should continue to be allowed to do so. But we are enabling innovation. We are enabling Trusts to be formed, the sort of confederation and amalgamation that many schools are interested in so that the strong can work with the weak and deliver better education for children.

JON SOPEL: I mean isn't this Martin Salter's Bill now. This is a mile away from what Tony Blair originally proposed and Ruth Kelly originally came up with.

JIM KNIGHT: I hope that Martin, along with other colleagues feels ready to support it because we've listened to his concerns, but also.

JON SOPEL: So it is Martin Salter's Bill.

JIM KNIGHT: No I also hope that David Willetts continues to want to support it because we want to command the majority of support. The Tories have come a long way from their days of pupils passports; we're winning the argument.

JON SOPEL: Okay. What about other concessions that for example we've heard read about, I don't know, giving OFSTED a role in who can set up a Trust. Is that a runner.

JIM KNIGHT: I think there, there is possibly something in giving OFSTED some kind of role. They do an inspection once a new school has been up and running. We're giving Trusts a duty to promote community cohesion and OFSTED making sure they're fulfilling that kind of duty is an important safeguard.

JON SOPEL: That's interesting. How would it work though.

JIM KNIGHT: Well when they come and look at a school, they would have to look to see whether or not the Trust is fulfilling its obligation in terms of Education. But also this one in respect of community cohesion, given the concerns that have been expressed on all sides about the sorts of people that might be able to set up these Trusts.

JON SOPEL: David Willetts said in the film that we just saw that originally it started off as a modest step forward but now there's virtually no step forward at all - he's right isn't he.

JIM KNIGHT: No, I think we're taking a huge step forward in allowing more freedom. Allowing, you know, the freedoms that we've seen in Academies, that we've seen in Foundation Schools to be spread more widely. Specialist schools, 80% of secondary schools are now Specialist schools. They've demonstrated that going down this road erm, is successful in raising standards and we want to raise standards further. And the other bits of the Bill, stuff on discipline and behaviour, stuff on school food, on curriculum and the 14-19 specialist diplomas are really important.

JON SOPEL: And you said that, but I'm just intrigued because on the one - I know that politics is a high wire act, but on the one hand you're saying, we've really listened to what everybody said, and you're also trying to tell me - but this is a very radical piece of legislation. Which is it..

JIM KNIGHT: It's both.

JON SOPEL: It's both.

JIM KNIGHT: I, I simply don't see a contradiction. What is the contradiction between saying, yes we listened to concerns, we've given safeguards to people who are concerned about fair access and local authority in their new strategic commissioning role have got a duty to fair access but at the same time we're saying to Government bodies and head teachers, if you want to innovate, if you want to be able to personalise and individualise education and work together then we can liberate you to do that.

JON SOPEL: But at the same time you've had to abandon so much of what was originally giving it its radical edge. Do you think it's what Tony Blair had in mind when he said in his party conference speech, with every reform he'd ever introduced, he wished he'd gone further. He's gone backwards.

JIM KNIGHT: Well I don't know what you've got in mind in terms of what we've abandoned. We've provided some safeguards around some concerns that we were going to be unduly penalising local authorities, that some undesirable characters might set up Trusts. That some admissions arrangements wouldn't be fair and people would be able to select by the back door. Well we haven't undermined the basic principles of diversity and choice for schools.

JON SOPEL: I just want to go on to a couple of other issues that are obviously concerning. I mean the terrible case in Edgware recently of a boy being stabbed to death. What do we do about security in schools? Do you need more legislation, is it a simple thing of just putting, I don't know, metal detectors in at the entrance to all our schools.

JIM KNIGHT: I think metal detectors on the entrance to all our schools erm, would be a reaction too fast at the moment. We set up a working group following the tragic death of Philip Laurence about ten years ago now. That continues to meet and look at these issues. But through the Violent Crime and Reduction Bill that's going through at the moment, we will introduce new measures in respect of police in schools.

In the Education Bill we've just been talking about there are new powers for Head Teachers to search for weapons; so we will give the legislative power but schools can't do things on their own, and there are wider cultural issues out there that are being addressed by the Home Office and - in order to make our streets safer and to come down hard on the growth of knife crime.

JON SOPEL: Okay. Just finally. Sir Alistair Graham, who I guess the tabloids would dub The Sleaze Watchdog - Standards in Public Life says that actually the record of this Government has been very poor and in particular Tony Blair just hasn't cared enough about that. Isn't that a damning indictment.

JIM KNIGHT: Well I would disagree with Mr Graham. Er, he was appointed by the Prime Minister, we set up a whole new process of monitoring and reporting on these issues. We changed the law in respect of these issues which demonstrates quite how serious Tony Blair was about cleaning up politics. The fact that some of these things have come to light that have raised wide-spread concerns, have precisely been because we take it seriously enough to disclose these things.

JON SOPEL: But it wasn't because you tried to get round the system with whole loans for peerages thing.

JIM KNIGHT: Well all the parties were indulging in trying to find ways ..

JON SOPEL: Indulging in ...

JIM KNIGHT: Trying to find ways of getting finance in to their campaigns and you know, I think we are making the right moves across all the parties to try and get rid of that practice. I don't think it was right. And I think it's right we should get rid of it.

JON SOPEL: Jim Knight. Thank you very much indeed.

End of interview

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

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


Nick Clegg MP
Nick Clegg MP, Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesman

Jon Sopel interviewed Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg was interviewed in his capacity as Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesman, on the levels of illegal immigration in the UK and the fate of the Afghan hijackers seeking asylum.

JON SOPEL: Well Nick Clegg holds the portfolio for the Liberal Democrats and he joins us now. Welcome to the Politics Show.

NICK CLEGG: Morning.

JON SOPEL: Tony Blair said this week, the Criminal Justice System is still the public service most distant from what reasonable people want. He's right isn't he.

NICK CLEGG: I think he er, actually in saying that is revealing the extent of his own failure. This is a, this is a politician, a Prime Minister who launched his own political career on the rhetoric of being tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. If he is now admitting almost a decade later that the Criminal Justice System is as er, dismal in its in its public credibility as it is, I think that really says a lot about his failure to honour his own rhetoric.

I think that, I think personally that represents a real turning point in politics because it does actually mean that his approach, endless tough talk and ... of new legislation without proper implementation has failed and so it now opens up space for a more serious reflection on what works.

JON SOPEL: Okay legitimate political point for you to make as an opposition politician but what about the proposition itself, that the Criminal Justice System is too distant from what most reasonable people want.

NICK CLEGG: Well I don't quite - too distant is a rather sort of ambiguous phrase. I'm just looking at the, the facts on the ground. We have now the highest re-offending rates anywhere in the Western World. Young male offenders who go to prison, 70%, 70% of them re-offend within two years.

That is institutional madness. We've got conviction rates for serious crimes like rape which are as low as 1% in some parts of the country. So of course people have lost some faith in it. But you need to ask yourself why, why has it come to this situation and I suggest that one of the reasons is that the gap between the political rhetoric and what happens on the ground is now so great.

JON SOPEL: Right. Let's deal with some specifics. Illegal immigrants. You said it's hard to justify the efforts spend in removing decent people and their families at a time when serious criminals aren't even considered for deportation. So are you saying there some illegal immigrants, more illegal than others.

NICK CLEGG: No. No. No. If you're illegal, you're illegal. But I think we've just got to be very, very realistic about the prospect. The estimate is what, around half a million illegal immigrants. A lot of these people are doing jobs that arguably wouldn't be done otherwise. The economy in London for a start would collapse if they were suddenly deported overnight. So all the, all the huffing and puffing ...

BOTH TOGETHER

NICK CLEGG: Hang on, has failed to do anything about it - is so much huffing and puffing because if they, if they were serious about it and honest about it, they'd have to ask why are these people here in the first place - to do jobs, and secondly, how do we make sure that they provide a real contribution to the economy in society, rather than simply being vilified by Tony Blair's latest pronouncements.

JON SOPEL: How do you decide which ones stay and which ones don't if they're all illegal immigrants.

NICK CLEGG: Well look, we have actually at the moment, a system in which if you are resident in this country for fourteen years, even illegally, you can apply for permanent leave to remain. So we have a system by which these people are gradually absorbed in to British society as it is. I think what you can't do and I think the government is in danger of doing this, is the more they talk tough on this the more you drive ... (interjection ) ... further underground.

JON SOPEL: I'm just, you talk about decent people and their families, illegal immigrants. I mean just how do you distinguish that in stat ... I'm just trying to be quite specific.

NICK CLEGG: The comparison I was trying to make was between some people and their families who are being removed from the United Kingdom even though they were conducting very law-abiding existences here in the United Kingdom and the fact that at the same time, the government wasn't even able to tell us who was foreign and who wasn't, and who should and shouldn't have been deported, even though they were in British prisons because they'd committed serious offences.

My point is, you've got to address the most important issues which threaten public safety first and that seems to me if the government has been unable to protect us from people like Anthony Rice who arguably shouldn't have been out of prison at all, and then committed that horrific murder of Naomi Bryant ... that is more important than going after people who are probably doing jobs that wouldn't be done anyway.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Jack Dromey the Deputy General Secretary of the Transport Union has said there should be some kind of amnesty which is something that's been tried in the States. Do you support that.

NICK CLEGG: No. I'm not, I don't actually think a one off amnesty solves the problem, or rather it solves the problem, only temporarily. It means that the - half a million or so people who are here illegally, are then absorbed in to, in to British society. The problem is of course, as experienced in Spain, Belgium and elsewhere has shown, it acts as a long term incentive for higher levels of illegal immigration later. I think we need to look at the way, the criteria by which we allow people to settle here permanently over a longer period of time.

JON SOPEL: What about these nine Afghans who high jacked a plane and have been told they can stay in this country. What's your view on that. Should they be allowed to stay.

NICK CLEGG: My view is that that the fact they high jacked the plane is utterly unacceptable. This is a very very serious offence.

JON SOPEL: Should they be allowed to stay.

NICK CLEGG: Hang on. The point actually, the legal point is, should the Courts have had the, the discretion to make a specific judgment on this specific case. Don't forget, these were Afghans, they committed a terrible crime, hijacking this plane but they - hang on hang on. They were anti Taliban intellectuals, who were persecuted by the Taliban. So the Court said, hang on a minute, if these guys go back to Afghanistan they will be tortured and possibly murdered by the Taliban. The Taliban incidentally, of course are the, the same people we're sending seven thousand British troops to fight. So it was a difficult ...

JON SOPEL: You're not answering the question.

NICK CLEGG: ... no, it's a difficult and ambiguous case in which government lawyers then dragged their feet and the judge said, it was unacceptable that the government should have done so. My view is that the government has appealed and that appeal should be allowed to, to proceed. That is my view.

JON SOPEL: So, you think that they are better off being in this country or not.

NICK CLEGG: I think the reasons why they fled the Taliban are perfectly understandable. If, if in the '70s a plane-load of people who were fighting against the Soviet Union had left Moscow and landed in Stansted, I wonder what our reaction would have been. I'm just saying that this is a much more complicated case than some of the rhetoric has suggested.

JON SOPEL: A lot of people see it as a very straight forward case and will judge that you know, for all the talk of tough liberalism, you still can't give a straight answer to ...

NICK CLEGG: Well you tell me, do you want to send people who are fleeing a heinous regime like the Taliban, back to their deaths. Do you want to do that? Does Tony Blair want to be there - does any British decent citizen want to send people back to torture and murder of course not. This is, I mean this - the degree to which this debate has collapsed in to a complete sort of rant against judges and the Human Rights Act, I think shows quite how far it has degenerated.

JON SOPEL: Okay Nick Clegg. We must leave it there. Thank you very much indeed.

End of interview

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

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


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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday 04 June 2006 at 12.00pm on BBC One.

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