Page last updated at 15:53 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Transcript of interview with Nick Clegg MP

On Sunday 17 January Andrew Marr interviewed Liberal Democrats Leader Nick Clegg.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

ANDREW MARR:

I'm joined by the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg. Welcome.

NICK CLEGG:

Morning.

ANDREW MARR:

This has been a past week in which you have torn up quite a lot of previous commitments because of the financial circumstances that the country's in, and you've made some controversial choices. You've got rid of, for instance, a pledge on free long-term care for the elderly in England, while at the same time you are ring-fencing schools. Now why not think more about the elderly and a bit less about schools, which, after all, have had a lot of money recently?

NICK CLEGG:

Well I start from the simple premise that this election is going to be different to the last several elections, for the simple reason that there's less money to go around. Money's not growing on trees, so you've got to treat people like grown-ups and say you've got to make choices, you've got to have priorities. Those priorities have to be driven by clear convictions and values, and the single value that runs as a thread through everything that the Liberal Democrats stand for is fairness. And one of the most unfair things in Britain today is that we have millions of people, despite all the promises from Labour over the last 13 years, who struggle to make ends meet, pay more in tax as a proportion of their income than very wealthy people do, and who aren't getting the benefit, whose children are not getting the benefit from a school system where social divisions are reproduced rather than heeled. So that is why we're placing the emphasis on a tax system, on the most radical reform in our tax system since the Second World War - putting money back in the pockets of millions of people on ordinary incomes; and also in the early years in particular, in school, providing more one to one tuition, small class sizes, because we know that's what promotes fairness, that's what promotes social mobility.

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

NICK CLEGG:

That's what allows people to live out their aspirations, their dreams, their hopes.

ANDREW MARR:

And yet you know, we know that there's millions of older people living in really pretty desperate circumstances.

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Sure. Oh and let me be clear, it's not we're not going to do anything. It's just that what we are resigning from is a pledge, which was very, very expensive and we felt was no longer aff… We've got to treat people like grown-ups. I don't think they're going to believe a list of implausible, focus group driven policy announcements which we keep getting from Labour and the Conservatives day in, day out. I think they want to be clear about where your heart is, what your values are, what your priorities are. And our priority is a programme of liberal reform, of fairness, of social mobility.

ANDREW MARR:

Well I was going to say because after all this tearing up of previous pledges, what is left that makes the Liberal Democrats distinctive in these areas?

NICK CLEGG:

Well, firstly, fair taxes. I mean let me be absolutely clear. What we're proposing is a very, very radical change in the tax system. At the moment in the tax system, if you're on low, modest incomes, you pay more in tax as a proportion of your income than people at the top. We're reversing that whole thing and saying for instance that people who live in large mansions of £2 million or more, they've got to pay a bit extra. We're saying to the banker in the City of London who pays less, a lower rate of tax on his capital gains than his cleaner does on her wages, that they've got to pay the same tax.

ANDREW MARR:

And at the other side, the £10,000 …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Exactly - to deliver, to deliver all those difficult choices, to deliver a £10,000 starting threshold of income tax, meaning that no-one pays a penny of income tax on their first ten thou…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And you think that's affordable, do you?

NICK CLEGG:

Can I just spell out what that … Well it's a tax switch of about £16 billion. Yes, it means taking some big choices on the loopholes that only the very wealthy enjoy. For instance, we would end the special tax subsidy that upper rate earners get on their pension contributions. Why? Because if you move towards this new threshold of £10,000, it takes about 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether; it puts £700 back in the pockets of the average taxpayer, and puts £100 back into the pockets of pensioners.

ANDREW MARR:

So this is redistribution really of a kind …

NICK CLEGG:

It is - yuh, of course.

ANDREW MARR:

… and I wonder, therefore, what you think about what seems to be one of the big dividing lines just at the moment on tax breaks for married couples because the Conservatives have made a great deal of the importance of supporting marriage through the tax system, and now we have Ed Balls in the Labour Party saying well that's the wrong thing to do because you'll benefit people at the top. Where do you stand?

NICK CLEGG:

Well let's not create artificial dividing lines. Everybody agrees, I passionately believe that happy families are ones that stay together, that nurture and love and support their children. The disagreement is not around that. It's how do we get there? And that's where there are profound disagreements between the political parties. I think David Cameron is plain wrong, totally wrong to say that we, the country, should spend billions of pounds providing a tax bribe for people simply to hold up a marriage certificate. By the way, immensely unfair. I mean what does it mean for the poor woman who's been left by some philandering husband who goes onto another marriage, gets the tax break and she doesn't get the tax break? I think what you need to do instead is support families, parents, right from the beginning. That's why, for instance, we are promoting interchangeable parental leave. I saw recently when our third son was born that I was only entitled to two weeks off when he was barely aware of my existence. If you really want fathers to remain involved with their children's upbringing and to be the loving, supportive fathers that we want to see up and down the country, then give fathers the freedom to do that right from day one by having interchangeable parental leave. The tax breaks I've talked about would allow families who at the moment find it really difficult to pay the weekly bills, put the food they want on the table for their children to pay to do so.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright.

NICK CLEGG:

And then the school system. You know we have a school system where …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) We've talked about the school system a little bit. Let's just keep moving, if you don't mind, to another of the dividing lines that seems to be opening up at the moment, which is on immigration. On the show last week, David Cameron said that he was in favour of a cap on immigration as well as the points system, and there's a poll in today's papers saying that if he put the cap at 50,000 a year or something like that, that would be a big electoral boost for him. Where do the Liberal Democrats stand on the idea of a cap, an annual cap on immigration?

NICK CLEGG:

Annual cap, I think won't work. It doesn't reflect the different needs of the country in different parts of the country. I was in the borders in Scotland yesterday where I know that some industries are crying out for more people to come to the area to work, yet that's not the case in the South East which is a more crowded part of the country.

ANDREW MARR:

But you can hardly divide the country up into different areas.

NICK CLEGG:

Well some other countries, for instance Australia, have come up with a points based system where you have a permit to work if you're an immigrant.

ANDREW MARR:

In one part of the country as opposed to another?

NICK CLEGG:

Yes, yes, that can … that could be one possibility.

ANDREW MARR:

Would that work here?

NICK CLEGG:

But can I … In general terms, what has gone wrong in the immigration debate is that we have now had decades of tough talk and administrative incompetence from both Conservative and Labour governments. They talk tough and they deliver complete administrative incompetence. What I want to see is an immigration system that is effective, yes - we are entitled to manage our borders, see who comes in and who goes out - but also be fair …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

NICK CLEGG:

… and particularly fair, if I may say so, to the people who flee persecution, violence, rape, torture. We have a moral duty to be fair to those people whilst also, of course, being effective in managing our borders. Why is it …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I'm sorry, you have said, talking about persecuted groups of people, that you think people who are persecuted because they are homosexual in different countries should have the right of asylum to this country. Now a lot of people perhaps who are of a conservative cast of mind or simply worried about the numbers of people migrating to this country would be horrified by that because you're talking about a lot of people.

NICK CLEGG:

You're not actually talking about a lot of people at all.

ANDREW MARR:

Across Africa?

NICK CLEGG:

No, you're not talking about a lot of people who are fleeing to Britain, who are seeking asylum on that. But listen, we have some countries in Africa now who are seeking to make it a penalty which will deserve the death penalty for just being homosexual. I think that is absolutely abhorrent. Do I think as a country that stands up for the rights of everybody, that has got a long tradition of freedom of expression, of liberty that we should always stand up for the values of tolerance? Yes, of course I do. And if David Cameron wants to enter into a Dutch auction now, coming up with implausible caps that can't work, that don't work, that we know round the world it doesn't work - fine, it might work in his focus groups, but it's not actually going to produce the …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay …

NICK CLEGG:

… cohesive Britain that I want to see.

ANDREW MARR:

On the same subject, what about the view that 160,000, 170,000 people coming in a year is unsustainable: it takes us to 70 million people before too long in this country and that is simply too many and this is a crowded country? Do you think that there is merit in that argument?

NICK CLEGG:

I think some parts of the country, clearly we have a lot of pressure on public resources, on public services, even on water resources - in the South East, for instance. It's not the case in other parts of the country. The second thing I would say, which people too readily forget, is that even now, after the large amount of people who've come into Britain in recent years, there are more British people living and working abroad than there are non-British people living and working in this country. It is a two-way street.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

NICK CLEGG:

If we simply pull up the drawbridge from one day to the next, we might actually find that we get a less welcome reception in other countries too. So …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I'm interested because you mentioned it again, but slightly confused, about this idea as to whether you could have more immigration into the borders of Scotland as it were and yet stop people who've immigrated there coming to the South East of England. It doesn't seem to me to be plausible.

NICK CLEGG:

It is plausible; it works in other countries. We are now looking at the way that works in other countries. So, for instance, the …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) People would have to be tied to a particular postal code.

NICK CLEGG:

Well it's relatively easy when people register to work, that they do so with local authorities so that you know who is working where. So, for instance, if we have a shortage of labour - as we do quite often in the fruit and vegetable picking industries of Lincolnshire, for instance - why should we not allow people to do that work on a seasonal basis?

ANDREW MARR:

You could make sure they didn't then move to London?

NICK CLEGG:

You could easily do that as long as you make sure, as long as you make sure of course that they're doing so above board.

ANDREW MARR:

Have you discussed this with colleagues?

NICK CLEGG:

Yes, yes, absolutely. No, this is a policy we've been developing over a long period of time. But let me tell you, that will only work if you know who's coming into the country and who's going out.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

NICK CLEGG:

It was the Conservatives, of course, who removed the exit controls on our borders which allowed us to see who was coming into the country and who was going out. But throughout, the balance we should be seeking to strike is fairness where we need to be fair to people who are … particularly those fleeing persecution, but effectiveness in the way in which we administer our borders and the way in which we administer the way people work in our labour market in different parts of the country.

ANDREW MARR:

For people probing what liberal means these days, perhaps the case of Myleene Klass who got into trouble for waving a knife at an intruder and has vigorously defended herself is an interesting one because there's a big campaign, as you know, about householders' rights to defend themselves. You've got children.

NICK CLEGG:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

If somebody comes smashing through your back garden and so on, you would no doubt naturally wish to protect your family. Do you think the rights of people to protect their homes have been eroded too far?

NICK CLEGG:

I think that the case for legally changing things, I don't think is made. I am not convinced there's a case to be made. I think there is now a lot of discretion for judges and courts to look at the specific examples, put themselves in the place of the person who is scared witless by an intruder, wants to protect their property, wants to protect their family. And I think on the whole, we've got to give the courts and the judges the discretion rather than think we can second guess every single case where these very, very difficult dilemmas arise.

ANDREW MARR:

When you were last on the programme, I asked you about hung parliaments and all of that, and you said that you thought the party which had the most support from the British people should be given the first chance to govern. By that, did you mean gets the most number of votes or gets the most number of MPs?

NICK CLEGG:

No, I was establishing not a mathematical formula in the wholly unlikely event …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) The two things could be quite different.

NICK CLEGG:

Well there is a theoretical possibility you might get a complete photo finish between some parties, but on the whole elections generally make it very clear which party enjoys more support from the Bri… And the reason of course I'm not going to get into this whole crystal ball gazing exercise is if you say "votes", people say "ah, he's in the blue corner"; if you say "seats", people go "ah, he's in the red corner."

ANDREW MARR:

Right.

NICK CLEGG:

No, what I am saying is it's the people who are in charge …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I wasn't being that sophisticated, as it happens.

NICK CLEGG:

No, okay. Well maybe I was running ahead of you on that. But I'm starting from first principles. This is an open election. This is an election where people I think want to do something different, where they - I think this is exciting about this election - realise that there's an opportunity to do things different, govern Britain differently, deliver real change, lasting change. And, therefore, it is more open and there are more possible outcomes. And I think in that environment all you can reasonably ask me to do is to work from first principles. First it's the people in charge - not the politicians; and, secondly, what are your core values? In my case, in the case of the Liberal Democrats - fairness. What are your core priorities? Fair tax, a fair start in life, a new economy and a new clean politics.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And that's why you want … I understand that's why you want people to vote Liberal Democrat, but you must also understand that a lot of people will be trying to gage what might happen if they vote one way or another. And you've been …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Well it's really …

ANDREW MARR:

… thought to be leaning one way or another. First of all, is it now completely implausible to think back to the situation in the mid-90s when Paddy Ashdown wanted to create a sort of progressive coalition by getting together with the Labour Party an agreed plan for voting reform and reshape the Centre Left entirely - is that all gone?

NICK CLEGG:

Well clearly things have changed …

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

NICK CLEGG:

… because since then we've had 13 years of Labour government, which has proved to be illiberal on civil liberties, authoritarian in many of its domestic policies, centralising. Went …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So Gordon Brown phones you up and says …

NICK CLEGG:

Well hang on, can I just finish this? Went to war with a Right Wing incumbent of the White House, an illegal war in Iraq. Hasn't delivered a greater equality. Inequality's gone up; social mobility's gone down. So clearly as a party of fairness, of liberal reform which wants to see greater fairness, greater social mobility; a new economy where we're not … where we're released from this sort of bewitching that the City of London has cast, this spell that the City of London cast on Conservative and Labour governments; a new clean politics where we sweep out the rotten system of politics in Westminster.

ANDREW MARR:

Yuh.

NICK CLEGG:

Of course I think we need a big break from what has happened over the last 13 years, but …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Okay, in that case … Sorry, I mean very, very specifically is PR still a precondition for any agreement with another party because it always was in the past?

NICK CLEGG:

Proportional representation is absolutely crucial to the whole range of measures we need to clean up our politics. It is …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So no PR, no deal?

NICK CLEGG:

No, hang on. It is wrong. It is plain wrong that Gordon Brown governs this country, yet his party only got 22% of the eligible vote at the last General Election. There are other things …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) We understand that. We understand the argument for it. What I'm asking you is whether an agreement in changing the voting system is a precondition for any agreement that you make with another party?

NICK CLEGG:

(over) The moment I say precondition, you say well you're a sort of one trick pony who only believes … No, we believe in the four big things that I've …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So it's not a precondition?

NICK CLEGG:

No, it is absolutely crucial to the changes I want to see in British politics. But there are other changes of course in politics. We want to give the right to people to …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But not a precondition?

NICK CLEGG:

It is an absolutely, in my view, indispensable requirement that we have a fair tax system where everyone's voice counts in our elections …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) A voting system. As you know, I was asking you about is it a precondition?

NICK CLEGG:

For what?

ANDREW MARR:

For an agreement with another party. Do they have to sign up to voting reform before you do a deal with them?

NICK CLEGG:

(over) I think … I think electoral reform is a precondition for the kind of fair, open politics that people want. So of course I will continue to campaign not only, by the way, for a change in the electoral system, but for instance to give people the right to sack their MPs if their MPs have been shown to do something seriously wrong. We're the only party with a plan to clear out the mess, the murky business of party funding in politics. We are the only party saying get on with it, directly elect the House of Lords right now. There are a whole menu of changes we need to clean up our politics after the expenses scandal and (Marr tries to interject) you're asking me to pick out one.

ANDREW MARR:

I am, yes, because it was a big thing for your party. And what I'm wondering …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) But of course it's a big thing, but I think …

ANDREW MARR:

… is whether it's plausible to have yourself or Vince Cable or any other Liberal Democrat round a cabinet table, in power, with either David Cameron or Gordon Brown …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) It is wholly …

ANDREW MARR:

… without having that agreed?

NICK CLEGG:

It is wholly implausible that the Liberal Democrats will be in any position of power in this country without ushering in radical political reform in a way that neither of the other parties deliver.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And when you say "radical political reform", do you include in that radical voting reform?

NICK CLEGG:

I include all the things that I've talked about: giving people the right to sack their MPs; of course fair votes; a cleaning up party funding; a directly elected House of Lords. We've got to after the expenses scandal answer to people's anger and frustration that Westminster has just lost touch with modern Britain.

ANDREW MARR:

Nick Clegg, for now thank you very much…

NICK CLEGG:

Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS



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