Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Politicians put on the spot by the younger generation

School reporters put their questions to Harriet Harman

The leaders of the UK's main political parties have faced tough questioning from junior reporters as part of BBC School Report News Day.


Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, was interviewed by pupils from Dixons Allerton Academy in Bradford, Guildford County School in Surrey, and Langdon School in East Ham, London.

Asked what she thought about lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, Mrs Harman said she and Prime Minister Gordon Brown thought it was a "good idea".

Ms Harman said young people could "lose interest" in politics after they stop citizenship classes at the age of 16 and they should be able to go straight into voting, rather than waiting another two years.

Labour's deputy leader was asked how she coped with attacks from the media.

She replied: "When journalists write mad things about me, which they do from time to time, I think that in a way people take them with a pinch of salt."

She said she found newspaper cartoons about her "hilarious" and added: "I've got them all framed and I think they are very funny. I think probably I've got much too thick a skin by now."

But Ms Harman surprised the students interviewing her when she said she could not name a political hero.


Conservative leader David Cameron faced pupils from St Katherine's School in Bristol; Bonus Pastor Catholic College in Lewisham, south-east London; and Harrop Fold School in Salford, Greater Manchester.

Alice, a year nine pupil from St Katherine's, wanted to know why working women are paid less than men on average - and what Mr Cameron proposed to do to address the imbalance.

The Tory leader said "lack of transparency" about people's salaries was partly to blame, highlighting that MPs' pay is public knowledge and they are all paid the same.

David Cameron faces questions from school reporters

"One of the things we ought to do is to try and encourage greater transparency across the public sector, across the private sector, much more transparency then you can see what people are being paid," he said.

Mr Cameron added: "We are still not doing enough to encourage women to get into all the top professions.

"That's probably the best way of dealing with it in the end."

Mr Cameron explained other proposals to his interviewers including a Schools Olympics, which children could compete in as part of London putting on the 2012 Games.


Students from London's Pimlico Academy quizzed Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who was asked about his plan to put 3,000 more police officers on the streets.

The children suggested more youth clubs and trained youth workers were also needed to reduce offending by young people.

"You're absolutely right. You need to give young people something to do so that they don't get into trouble," said Mr Clegg.

He suggested young people in trouble with the authorities for the first time should "face their victim".

Nick Clegg is quizzed by school reporters

"Let's say if they have graffitied someone's front door, they should face their victim, explain what they have done, apologise for what they have done, then make up for what they have done by doing some work in the local community," he said.

Also asked whether he was annoyed by the greater emphasis on Labour and the Conservatives in political reporting, Mr Clegg said he had "given up getting annoyed with the media".

"It would send me round the bend if I got annoyed," he joked.


Scottish National Party leader - and Scotland's First Minister - Alex Salmond, was interviewed in the Scottish Parliament by students from Gracemount High School, Edinburgh.

He said Scotland needed "more people" so it could compete with other countries, and immigration policies needed to be "more liberal".

Mr Salmond said: "We could do with losing fewer of our talented youngsters and attracting more talent from elsewhere."

First Minister Alex Salmond: "One of the things I wasn't allergic to was plain chocolate digestives"

He told his interviewers former South African President Nelson Mandela was his political hero, for showing "dignity and compassion", even after being held in prison for more than 25 years.

On the subject of biscuits, he said: "I like McVitie's plain chocolate digestive."

He added: "When I was a wee laddie, I was allergic to lots and lots of stuff. I was allergic to milk, cheese, eggs, butter, ice cream, all sorts of stuff...

"One of the things I wasn't allergic to was plain chocolate digestive biscuits and Lucozade."


School Reporters from Bishopston Comprehensive, Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr and Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bryn Tawe, which are all in Swansea and Risca Comprehensive School in Newport paid a visit to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

Their questions were answered by a panel of Assembly Members (AMs) and officials from the body.

James from Risca Comprehensive asked what were the advantages of having an assembly in Wales.

AM Helen Mary Jones, of Plaid Cymru, answered: "If we had a government in London who controlled the banks properly then we might not be in this sort of state.

"When I joined Plaid Cymru, 30 years ago, I could see that the people of Wales had never voted for a majority of Conservative MPs, but we'd had a Conservative government for three-quarters of the time because that is what the people England had chosen.

"That's why bringing power back is important."

School Reporters visit the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff

Conservative AM Brynle Williams said the visit of the School Reporters was a very important occasion.

"The Assembly is yours, it belongs to you. I hope this is the first of many times you come in here and ask those probing questions... everybody has something to contribute," he said.


School Reporters Kyle, Jason, Chloe and Sinead from Assumption Grammar School in Belfast and Magherafelt High School in Northern Ireland visited Stormont, home of the Northern Ireland Assembly to talk to two local politicians.

Basil McCrea from the Ulster Unionist Party and Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein answered a mixed bag of questions from their young inquisitors.

Both men were asked about Northern Ireland's school system, particularly if they thought the 11-plus selection system should be retained.

Mr McCrea said: "We need to find different sorts of schools that fit different sorts of folks."

He said he thought the grammar school system was currently the only way to prevent certain schools from becoming hopelessly oversubscribed.

Mr Kelly said he thought the Northern Irish system was, in some ways, "50 years behind" most of Europe.

He said: "We stamp some people as failures in life at the age of 11. We need that overhauled, we're trying to do away with it."

School Reporters talked to politicians at Stormont in Northern Ireland

Both men were asked how they reacted to Tuesday's agreement on the devolution of justice and police powers in the province.

Mr Kelly said he thought it marked the day Northern Ireland "came of age".

Mr McCrea said his party opposed the agreement because they worried institutions in the province were not strong enough to support their new powers.

"Real issues, like jobs and education, are what people worry about," he added.


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