As part of the Parliament Week activity, the community pulled together some questions to ask leading politicians in the run-up to the General Election. Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats, has answered your questions! Check out below what Nick Clegg has to say to the TSR community!
Statement from Nick Clegg
Thanks to The Student Room for the opportunity to come and answer your questions.
The election is now just 6 months away. In 2010, the Liberal Democrats entered into Coalition to provide Britain with a strong, stable government, able to steer the country through extremely turbulent times. In 2015, we’ll offer a different kind of stability: we are now, I believe, the only party that can anchor the British government to the reasonable and rational centre ground.
The Tories are increasingly lurching to the right, whether it’s punishing the poor, ditching their commitments on the environment or slamming human rights, in a bid to outflank UKIP. Labour seem to have learnt absolutely nothing from their mistakes and, if they get into government on their own, will almost certainly jeopardise the economic recovery.
More than ever, my party is determined to stand up for the rational, compassionate and decent politics that speaks to millions of British people.
We want a stronger economy, but we want a fairer society too. We don’t believe the British people should have to choose between one and the other. The two go hand in hand. Crucially, we want to turn Britain into a place where everyone – every single person – can get on in life, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.
We believe that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you deserve your chance to shine. That ambition is what sets liberals apart and, above all else, it’s why next year I want the Liberal Democrats back in Government again.
1. Over the duration of the last few governments, tuition fees have continued to rise. What does the Liberal Democrats Party intend to do about this? How would a Lib Dem government support students and make education more accessible?
You’ll know that my party wasn’t able to stop the recent rise in fees. It wasn’t possible. Not when both Labour and the Tories were determined to increase them, and not at a time when there is so little money around.
But, despite all the controversy at the time, we did manage to do the next best thing. Under the new system, no one pays a penny until they can afford it. If you can’t afford it, you don’t pay the money back at all. We’re also providing more help with living costs for students from poorer families
As a result, we’re now seeing the highest ever application rates to our universities. More young people are starting full time courses than ever before. Most importantly, a higher proportion of young people from disadvantaged homes are going to university. Entry rates from nearly every single ethnic minority are also at record highs.
So I don’t want a single young person to be put off studying for a degree because they think they can’t afford it. Despite the changes, we still managed to make sure that going to university depends on ability, not ability to pay. That will be our guiding principle in the next parliament too, and every parliament after that.
2. Many young people are finding it tremendously difficult to afford to buy a home, feeling the squeeze from taxes and expenses from every direction, even with a good job. It is easy to see why these people would feel neglected by the government - what does the Liberal Democrats Party think should be done?
It is so, so important that every young person – no matter your background or what your parents do – has the chance to fulfil your potential. You’re at a time in your lives that is exciting, but it can be hugely daunting. I think one of government’s biggest responsibilities is making sure that, even if you’re not sure exactly what you want to do, you can still be confident that there’s a path out there for you.
To do that, we need to create opportunities. That’s why, for example, despite the fact that there has been very little money around since the banking crisis, we’ve insisted in investing in high-quality Apprenticeships. We’re now within weeks of our two millionth Apprentice, since 2010, starting their placement.
When you start earning, you also need to feel the money in your pocket. Again, that’s why despite the pressure on spending, Lib Dems fought for, and won, the most radical income tax cut ever. Now you won’t pay tax on the first £10,500 you earn, saving basic rate taxpayers £800 every year and taking millions of people out of income tax altogether. We want to go even further, so that you won’t pay any income tax until you’re earning £12,500.
On housing we’ve made some inroads, but it’s definitely where more needs to be done. For the next parliament, the Liberal Democrats have set an ambitious target: to build 300,000 more homes a year, with measures such as using unwanted public sector land and developing new garden cities. I agree - housing is where we really need to shift the dial.
3. What is your idea of how the NHS should look in five years' time, and will you be prepared to block attempts to establish private medical schools in the UK that could render the cap invalid and reduce the employability of our medical and nursing graduates?
In five years, in fifty years, in a hundred years the NHS is going to be what it’s always been: the envy of the world; a system by which every single person knows that, whatever happens to them, they will be looked after and the care they need will be free.
To make sure that happens, the NHS needs money. That’s why the Liberal Democrats have pledged an additional billion pounds a year for it in the next parliament.
One big change I do want to see is the status given to mental health. This is a major priority for me. I recently announced that, for the first time ever, there will be minimum waiting times for mental health services. So, if you need a talking therapy because you have depression, for example, you’ll be guaranteed the treatment you need within 6 weeks, with a maximum wait of 18 weeks, just as if you have a physical illness like diabetes.
That’s a big step in the right direction, but there’s more to be done if we’re going to really tackle stigma and get mental health on an equal footing with physical health
With regards to the cap on foreign students studying at British medical and dental schools, as I’ve said before, for me, the most important thing is not to impose some arbitrary limit just for the sake of it, but to focus on doing what’s necessary to maintain the highest standards of patient care in our NHS and ensure that the UK continues to be home to some of the best medical and dental schools and also students in the world.
4. The parties promote the image that they care about the environment, but this is rarely reflected in policy, with priority always going elsewhere with excuses that green policy is too expensive. Parties appear to pay only lip-service to protecting the environment - can parties be more honest about the degree to which they legitimately care and are prepared to act on environmental concerns?
I don’t accept that at all. My party has spent the last four and a half years pretty much fighting day in day out with the Tories to protect the green agenda. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming on the decision to introduce a new 5p charge on plastic bags, but we did it. They wanted to scrap Natural England, but we stopped them. They even wanted geography teachers to stop teaching children about how we can tackle climate change.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem Secretary of State in the Energy department, is overseeing the biggest ever investment in renewables. We’re also improving the sustainability of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters, as well as securing the future of our woodlands too. Since 2010, for example, we’ve planted a million additional trees, announced that we would complete England’s coastal path and published a natural environment white paper and new pollinator strategy.
That comes on top of creating the world’s first Green Investment Bank, launching the Green Deal and providing a massive boost to electric and ultra low emission vehicles.
Yes, we need to do more. Absolutely. That’s why my party wants a Nature Act to increase essential environmental protections, strengthening the penalties for environmental crimes and delivering on our 5 new green laws: to build a zero carbon Britain; reduce waste; save energy through more sustainable heating; boost green transport and improve access to nature for everyone. But in Coalition, we have worked tirelessly to defend the green agenda. In the next parliament we’ll do the same.
5. Apart from a few flagship projects, science funding has experienced over a billion pounds of effective cuts over the past five years, to the point where science funding is now only barely half of the EU's recommended 3% GDP figure. We appear to be sacrificing important long-term benefits for small short-term benefits - why are we neglecting science funding and what is your position on tackling this?
Actually, from the beginning of this Coalition Government, we made a clear, strong commitment to protect the UK’s science and research budget of £4.6 billion a year from cuts, and we’ve done that. We’re also now increasing that funding for 2015-16 to £4.7 billion.
So, I don’t accept the argument that we’re taking our foot off the pedal in terms of strengthening Britain scientific know-how and the ways we can use it to help us succeed.
Our new Catapult Centres are just one example of this. For the first-time ever, the UK has an established network of research and development facilities dedicated to commercialising the latest developments in technology, materials and processes to boost the UK’s long-term competitiveness
That’s a huge step forward, and we already have leading British companies like Rolls Royce using some of the new skills, techniques and products developed at our centres. All of which are helping save them money, secure jobs in the UK and keep them ahead of their global competitors.
None of those Catapults existed four years ago. Now we have seven working in fields like High Value Manufacturing, Cell Therapy and Satellite Applications, and this network will grow even further with new Catapults in Energy Systems and Precision Medicine under development and due to open in 2015.
So I’m proud of our record. But that doesn’t mean I think we can just sit back now. We need to keep driving our investment and progress in British science and research forward, putting our money where our mouth is, and that’s what the Liberal Democrats are committed to do, now and in the future.
6. If MPs are meant to serve and represent the people, why doesn't the MPs' Oath of Allegiance include the people?
The MP’s Oath of Allegiance dates back centuries and is, basically, a promise of loyalty to the British monarch, their heirs and successors. Some senior public servants and people participating in citizenship ceremonies also make this oath.
Bluntly, I agree with the point at the heart of your question. We live in a democracy, we’re put in parliament by the British public and we’re here to serve our constituents. No MP should ever forget that. Trying to modernise Westminster’s archaic rituals, however, is a bit like pulling teeth. Believe me, I speak from experience.
7. Voters have become increasingly apathetic to politics, most likely in part due to the difficulties in discerning real ideological differences between the larger parties. Both Labour and the Conservatives appear to follow similar agendas and the Liberal Democrats appear to have sacrificed their ideological stance in order to support their coalition partners. This leaves people feeling alienated and their views unrepresented. What has caused this uniformity and will it change? If so, how?
It’s true that disenchantment and anger towards politicians in Britain is at an all time high and it is something we need to address – but the idea that the three main parties are the same simply isn’t true.
I’ll give you one really important example: how do each of us plan to finish dealing with the deficit in the next parliament?
The Tories refuse to raise a single tax on the wealthier in society and instead plan to take billions more out of the welfare budget – singling out the working-age poor as the only group expected to make extra sacrifices for the on-going fiscal effort.
Labour haven’t learnt a single lesson about economic responsibility and still will not commit to balancing the books in the coming years.
The Liberal Democrats, by contrast, will finish the job, but finish it fairly – making the necessary further cuts to spending, but also asking the people who can afford it to make a greater contribution. That includes through our levies on higher value homes, the so-called Mansion tax.
It’s the same on Europe – the differences are huge. The Tories will risk taking Britain out of the EU, pulling up the drawbridge despite the damage it would do to our economy. Labour has done everything possible to stay out of the debate because they’re running scared of UKIP. But the Liberal Democrats have stood up for what we believe in, an open Britain which stands tall in our European backyard, even when it hasn’t been popular to do so.
So while I understand why people watching the ya-boo politics of Westminster think all of the parties blur into one, the reality is that we have very different values and we offer a very different future. What I totally accept, of course, is that our job between now and the election is to get out there and explain those differences to people, which is why I was so happy to take up the invitation to answer your questions on The Student Room.
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