info@southlincslibdems.org.uk
We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Straight from the horse's mouth - sorry Nick!

July 2, 2013 4:15 PM
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE

GIVEN BY THE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, NICK CLEGG

IN LONDON

ON MONDAY, 1ST JULY 2013

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Morning everybody, thanks very much for coming to this press conference. I will be holding a press conference like this once a month, regularly, so you can grill me on any questions of the day and - not least because I know how frustrated you are trying to get through to the telephone lines on LBC on Thursday morning, so we can do it here instead.

Look, before I take your - before I take your questions I just wanted to say a word or two about last week, which I think was an important week for the coalition government, an important week for the economy. Many people were predicting, naysayers, including in the two coalitions parties, that somehow we wouldn't be able to take big, difficult decisions by this stage in the Parliament. And yet we confounded those naysayers by taking some very difficult decisions in announcing the £11.5 billion worth of additional savings covering that year 2015-2016. And I think that is good news for anyone who believes that we've just got to remain dedicated to the central task of this coalition government which is rescuing, repairing and reforming the British economy.

It was a bad week, not only for those naysayers, but I think for the Labour party as well, whose approach to the big economic questions is becoming increasingly difficult to follow, increasingly contradictory. They vilified us for three years every time we announced any savings and then suddenly last week they still vilify us for the savings that we're announcing but now tell us that they will support them if they were in government.

It's also, of course, an important week because today Mark Carney starts as the new governor of the Bank of England. I want to wish him and his team all the very best of luck and success in his term as governor. I have been enormously impressed by him in my dealings with him, and he knows the coalition government will continue to do our bit, if you like, of the overall approach, macro-economic approach, to the economy. Namely, consistently and steadfastly filling the black hole in our public finances, being disciplined on the fiscal side of the equation, precisely so that Mark Carney and his team can use the monetary levers at their disposal with maximum flexibility to help support - support the economy. So, I hope - I hope that's useful background to you but, now, over to you.

QUESTION

Thank you very much. Andy Bell, Channel 5 News. Do you think MPs should get a pay rise?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

As you know, the - the new system is that we have this independent body, IPSA, because of the MPs' expenses. They're completely independent so it's not for any government or party leader to try and second-guess them. They are - they are entirely independent, that's set out in statute.

But my own view is that the public would find it impossible to understand - particularly those millions of people in the public sector whose pay is only increasing by 1% - they'd find it impossible to understand that their parliamentary representatives, at a time like this, would be receiving pay increases far in excess of that 1% increase. We've taken in the government - the coalition government - we've taken steps to show that we're serious about pay restraint. So we cut ministerial pay (it was one of the first things that the Prime Minister and I did at the first cabinet of the coalition government) by 5%. And recently, when MPs received the automatic 1% increase, we offset that so that the ministerial pay-bill remains frozen.

QUESTION

Personally, would you turn it down if you did get the pay rise?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

I wouldn't be able to support a recommendation from IPSA to -

QUESTION

Would you turn it down personally?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

I would - I would, personally I would. Of course, I'm luckier than other MPs because, like everybody in government, we get a ministerial salary, and I totally understand that backbenchers who don't, they think that they're in a different category. Speaking for myself, I would certainly seek to do whatever I can to make sure that either this decision is not taken in the first place, but that's out of my hands, but secondly, if it were to be taken, not to - not to take that pay increase. Yeah.

QUESTION

Libby Wiener, ITV News. Following on from that, what will you be telling your MPs to do? Should they all refuse a pay rise of this level?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well the whole system of course is such that party leaders don't have control over IPSA and, unless you were to change the legislation, the IPSA recommendations stand as they're made. It's for - I think it's for individual MPs to decide. As I say, of course there is a difference if you're a backbench MP on a lower salary than those who are lucky enough to receive ministerial salaries.

But I think all MPs, whatever status they hold, whatever position they hold, will know from their own constituents that there are millions of people in the United Kingdom at the moment who've had a remorseless squeeze on their living standards for some years now and that we're asking millions of public sector works, in our schools, in our hospitals, to have their pay only increase by 1%. You know, MPs of whatever description at the end of the day are public servants paid by taxpayers. And that's why I think it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to explain to the public why MPs should be treated at this time so very differently to their constituents.

QUESTION

It does look a bit of a mess though if you've got a system where you automatically get pay rises and now you're going to have to voluntarily turn them down. Does the system need looking at again?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well the system has been established, of course, because of the problem of MPs and politicians acting as judge and jury of their own arrangements and that's why we had the expenses scandals in the first place. So it was a logical response to the expenses scandal to say, 'Take this out of the hands of politicians.' What you're now suggesting is: if the decision taken independently is not what politicians want, politicians should take things back into their own hands. I believe that it is best, as a general principle, to take politicians out of the equation but that doesn't mean that I or indeed other MPs should be silent about decisions which may be taken independently which they don't think - and I certainly don't think - make any sense at this particular time. George.

QUESTION

George Parker for the Financial Times. Can I predictably ask about Europe -

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Yeah.

QUESTION

- and the events of the week, the bill…? Now David Cameron's said he wants people to get off the fence on the question of a referendum. Isn't it slightly cowardly for the Lib Dems to either abstain or just be away from Westminster on Friday when the vote's held? And shouldn't you just be absolutely clear that if there's no change in the relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe, no further transfer of powers, the Liberal Democrats would oppose a referendum, and that would be a red line for the Lib Dems in any coalition negotiations after the next election?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well I'll come to the Conservative position in a minute which of course has swerved round enormously over recent months and years.

For the Liberal Democrat position, we're sort of sticking to the position we adopted - not least when the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty was debated in 2008 - and we said then that, because the Lisbon Treaty represented a significant new pooling of sovereignty, in other words new things were asked of the United Kingdom, that that should be subject to an in-out referendum. A referendum where the question is, 'Do you want to stay in, or do you want to leave the European Union?' We repeated that in our manifesto in 2010, and by the way in 2008 we said that.

The Conservatives said that there was a cast-iron guarantee for referendum on Lisbon, which they didn't deliver. In 2010 we remained consistent with that position and said if there is a change in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union in which new things are asked of the UK, we are asked to give up new powers, to pool those new powers in the European Union, again we said in our manifesto there should be a referendum and the question should be, 'Do we want to stay in or leave the European Union?'

After the 2010 general election, we acted on that again consistently by legislating with the Conservatives to set out in law for the first time ever a legal guarantee that, when the rules of the game changed, when new things are asked of the United Kingdom, that will then trigger a referendum. And we've got that now on the statute book. We did that with the Conservatives who at the time strongly advocated that that was the best approach. And I can confirm, you know, today, that when that trigger is set off by a new treaty, we remain of the view - as we have, it's a view we've had for years - that the question on the ballot paper should be an in-out question.

So I think the Liberal Democrats have been consistent throughout. The Conservatives have changed: they were strongly advocating that position. In other words, on the basis of the trigger legislation we have legislated on together just a few months ago, they've now changed their position. They want to pluck a slightly arbitrary date in a diary out of thin air to have a referendum on the back of a very ill-defined process of so-called renegotiation. And for the reason I've set out we've got a clear position: it's consistent; it's remained the same over some period of time. We're not going to waste any of our time helping the Conservatives indulge in their own internal feuds on the floor of the House of Commons on Friday.

QUESTION

Would it be a red line for you in the coalition negotiation?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Look I don't think any - I mean on this, on education, on tax, on all the whole range of issues, I'm not going to start setting out red lines for coalition negotiations which may or may not take place after the next general election. I do think it's right for me to set out clearly and simply what our approach is, which is that, when the - when the rules of the game change again, when new things are asked of the United Kingdom within the European Union, as we've said for years, as we've set out in legislation, there should be a referendum and that referendum should be on a simple question, 'Do you want to remain in that European Union or do you want to go out?' And let me be clear, that won't satisfy people who don't think there should be a referendum ever under any circumstances. And it won't satisfy those people who think there has to be a referendum by next Tuesday or by some other arbitrary date alighted upon for whatever reason.

However, it is a centre-ground position, which I think most reasonable people understand, which is that when new things are asked to us - when we're asked to give up, if you like, new things, pooling new powers within the European Union, on the back of a new treaty, where that triggers the legislation which is now on the statute book - the British people will have their say, and they will have a say on a simple question: 'Do you want to be in or do you want to be out?'

And let me - if there's any doubt in that - tell you what our position will be: we will always be the party of 'in'. We believe, not that the European Union is perfect - of course it isn't perfect; not that it doesn't need reform - of course it needs reform; but we believe that it is overwhelmingly in the national interest - jobs, protecting us from challenges which we can't deal with on our own, climate change, cross-border crime - for us to be in.

And not only in the European Union, but in the European Union as a leading member state of the European Union. And that is why I've never understood the now recently-altered Conservative position, which is that they are in effect threatening to leave the European Union if they don't get an unspecified list - shopping list of repatriated powers. They may increasingly be becoming the party of 'out'; we are unambiguously and will remain the party of 'in'.

Yes.

QUESTION

Kitty Donaldson from Bloomberg. Just wondering, talking of Tory policies: do you back a tax-break for married couples? And secondly, on Trident: what does a Britain without a like-for-like deterrent look like?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

On marriage tax-breaks, I have never understood the virtue of a policy which basically says to people who are not married: you will pay more tax than people who are married or, more particularly, are married according to the particular definition of marriage held by the Conservative party. You know, if you've got hundreds of millions of pounds to spend on a tax-break like that, I'd much rather spend it on all working families, to improve the tax-breaks we're going to give them for childcare, for instance. We've offered, as of 2015, tax-free childcare for working parents, worth about £1,200 per child. I'd love to see that expanded. That's what I'd spend the money on.

Instead, for reasons that I've never quite understood, the Conservatives want to basically say to a widow, who maybe's, you know, lost her husband: you are not going to benefit from a tax-break even though you were married but you've lost, you know - someone - a couple - I don't know, a woman who's been abandoned by her husband suddenly doesn't get the tax-break, even though she believes in marriage. I just think this desire of the Conservative party to handpick couples through the tax system who conform to their image of the way you should conduct your life - I don't think it's fair, and I certainly don't think it's fair on all those other people who are going to have to pay higher taxes to fund this proposal.

On Trident, we've - Danny Alexander has sent to the Prime Minister and myself the full, classified document, which has been worked up by officials for a couple of years now. It's a very, very thorough piece of work, and we will publish the unclassified document as soon as possible. I'm very keen we should do that as quickly as we can, so that you can see for yourself what the options are. And there are options. I know there are people who say: there is no option; we must sort of mechanically just repeat exactly the trident system precisely as it is so that, you know, you've got a system which was designed for the Cold War ready to go at the push of a button, any minute of any day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Of course there are other options, and you'll be able to examine what those other options are when the unclassified report is published for all to see as soon as possible.

Yes? I'll go around.

QUESTION

Chris Hope, Telegraph. Mr Clegg, going on from Kitty's question: does that mean you'll block a marriage tax allowance if it comes to a vote, or in the coalition? And secondly, when will you publish your tax return? Will you do it for this financial year?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
My tax returns, by the way, are fantastically dull - I've no other income than the income that's already fully published, so I don't think you'd learn anything more.

On marriage: look, we've got a coalition agreement commitment. The Conservatives, understandably - I don't agree with the policy, but they've got this policy of a marriage tax-break; they wanted to put it in the coalition agreement; we said we can't support it, so we agreed that we would say in the coalition agreement that we would abstain on it. You know we treat the coalition agreement something akin to a tablet of stone, so we will do what the coalition agreement says.

But that's not to say we're not going to argue against what, as I explained, I think is an unfair tax-break which discriminates in favour of some people and basically says to anybody who's not married, or not married according to whatever definition the Conservative party comes up with, that they are going to have to pay higher taxes instead.

QUESTION

And will you publish your return?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Look, I'm going to do whatever - I'm totally relaxed about my own tax rates but I don't think it would be very sensible for politicians to start, sort of, individually doing one thing if other politicians are not. But I think - you know, you've got all the facts at your disposal, frankly, about my own tax arrangements.

QUESTION

Hi, good morning. Michael Settle from The Herald. Tomorrow is the publication of the fourth analysis paper on Scottish independence, and I was just wondering if there are fears now, in government, that you're becoming a little bit unremittingly negative about the arguments.

And secondly, if I may, just on the issue of eavesdropping: what's your reaction to the latest row over the Americans' eavesdropping the Europeans? And have you ever feared that you may have been bugged, say by Tory Central Office or Labour HQ?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

On the first point: no, I think we're being unremittingly open with people about what is at stake. If you listen to Alex Salmond - you know, he wants to almost lead you to believe that somehow this is a cost-free, risk-free option - yanking Scotland out of the family of nations that is the United Kingdom. So I think we're perfectly entitled to say: hang on a minute, there are some major question marks here about how would Scotland - what would happen to its currency? Would it be part of the Euro? Part of the UK? If it's part of the Sterling area, then it would be subject to interest rates and monetary policy set in London. How does that square with independence? All the military bases, very significant in Scotland - what would it mean for that? What would it mean for all the debts and liabilities of the banking system, which Scotland would then have to shoulder apart? I think we're perfectly entitled to say these are questions that need to be addressed. And the reason we're publishing them, Michael, is because Alex Salmond and the SNP, remarkably - given that this is a party whose sole purpose in life is to advocate independence - don't seem to have got any questions for this.

And then, coupled with that, there's a very positive vision, I think, of saying, look, of course we can retain different identities within the family of nations within the UK. Of course people are proud to be Welsh; of course people are proud - I was in Northern Ireland last week - people are incredibly proud in Northern Ireland of their identity. Of course people are proud to be Scottish, and, indeed, are proud of their different regional identities within England. But we can retain all of those - in fact, deepen all of those separate identities - whilst at the same time being positive about the fact that there is a whole bunch of things we can do together that we couldn't possibly do on our own. Much like the European debate, I'd start from a very simple principle: that in this modern, globalised, footloose, fancy-free world, you're stronger when you work together and you're weaker when you are apart. That is a positive argument which I think many people in Scotland would support.

Yes - and then I'll come round.

QUESTION

Jerry Lewis. Can I ask you - you've been…?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Oh, sorry - I'm very sorry, I didn't talk about the eavesdropping thing.

Funny - I was, just last night - sorry Jerry, I will come back to you - I was in Zagreb, of all places - well, not of all places, for a very good reason: to celebrate the entry of Croatia into the European Union. And yes, look: there's palpable disquiet about some of the reports. But, you know, I'm not going to start commenting on leaks, and I'm certainly not going to provide a running commentary on intelligence matters. No British government's done that and we're not going to start doing it.

All I can tell you is that my experience of being in government for three years is that the checks and balances that exist to make sure that the intelligence that is gathered by British intelligence agencies and is used are second to none - in fact, have been recently and dramatically strengthened by us. So we passed legislation to transform the power of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is a cross-party committee in the House of Commons, which have got unprecedented new powers to call for evidence from the intelligence agencies. This Thursday they're taking evidence - televised evidence - from the agencies, the ISC now for the first time can basically initiate investigations without asking the permission of the government, of the agencies themselves. So I think we've significantly boosted accountability.

Look, I've got an old fashioned liberal kind of belief that, yes, of course it's necessary for our security that things are done in secret, but if things are done in secret, which is the work of intelligence agencies, you've got to make sure you've got bolt and braces, checks and balances, to make sure that's done lawfully and proportionately.

QUESTION

Jerry Lewis, Israel Radio. Mr Clegg, you've been robust in criticizing and condemning extremist language and racism, yet you've been markedly reluctant to take any action against David Ward MP, who's been viciously anti-Semitic in some of his comments, and has defied your own chief whip repeatedly when he's been advised to take some guidance and listen to others in the party over his attitudes on Jews in general. When are you going to either force him to resign or take other action?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Jerry, I don't accept that characterisation. He apologised - quite right too - because what he said at the time caused very serious offence, and he issued a clear, unambiguous apology, and you're quite right that we then agreed - and the chief whip is overseeing this process, I've asked him to do so - to make sure that David Ward is not - is not prevented from expressing his views about the policy of the Israeli government, he's entirely free to do that, whether you or indeed I or indeed anybody else agrees or disagrees with him - but that he understands that he cannot express those views in a way which appear prejudicial and appear prejudice towards a whole community. And that is what he is undertaking to do, and he is meeting with people in the party to establish precisely that, but he's done that, of course, as I've asked via the chief whip should happen, on the back of a clear apology.

QUESTION

Sorry, he has repeated some of those comments and, according to recent reports over the weekend, it appears he's not been able to meet the peers he was asked to meet - they were - he just point blank refused to have anything further to do with -

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

No, there is a process which will, which is going on, where David Ward is consulting with other colleagues in the Party and elsewhere, to do precisely what we said at the time would happen, it's to make sure -

QUESTION

So if he fails to follow the advice, will you sack him?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

I've seen no indication at all from the chief whip that he is failing to do so. He's apologised, and he must now - as he undertook at the time, and as I requested at the time - ensure that where he expresses his views - he's entirely free to express his views about the fraught issue of the Middle East as a criticism of government policy but not to do so in a way which causes serious offence in the way that his original remarks did. Yes?

QUESTION

Hi, Jack Blanchard from the Yorkshire Post. As a committed devolutionist you must be pretty disappointed that the money being made available to local areas under the Heseltine programme is just a fraction of what he had envisaged, and that we now know most of it was going to local areas anyway, through grants to councils and through the transport devolution program. Do you accept that this time Whitehall has won and has held onto the purse strings?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

No, I don't accept that . I was talking to Michael Heseltine about it on the day of the spending round, and he also accepts that this is the start of a process. If you think that extracting £2 billion from the sort of clammy hands of Whitehall departments is an easy task, I tell you, I found the hard way, it isn't, and it's a very, very significant - in fact it's an unprecedented new step of just taking money and powers, on the back of all the other things we're doing - the City Deals, which are a significant transfer of power from the centre to local areas, the localisation of business rates, probably the biggest act of tax decentralisation this country has seen in a long period of time, the Regional Growth Fund - all of these things, we're now adding to that as you know this so-called Heseltine pot. I've been speaking to Michael about it - I'm very keen he should remain involved with it, by the way, not only because he's the leading advocate of it, but also because I think it'll give our towns and our cities and our regions outside London the confidence that this money really is going to be used in the flexible and free way that it has been intended, so I'm determined that Michael should remain involved. And it's a start. It's a very significant start, you know, it's big chunks of money from the Department of Transport, from the Department for Business, and from other departments across Whitehall. And it's part - as the Chancellor announced - part of a process which I hope will see more money and more power irreversibly allocated from the centre to local areas in our country.

Patrick and I should move over to this side because - yes.

QUESTION

Right, I was just coming back to the surveillance - I was just, you said -

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Do you want to take the mike or not?

QUESTION

No, I'm all right.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

All right, all right.

QUESTION

There's - you said there's palpable concern in some European capitals about what's happening in terms of the scale of the surveillance that's been going on, and it has been striking that in America and Germany there has been quite a big debate about this, and in Britain by contrast it's been very muted. Would you actually encourage a debate now about what has been going on, about the scale of what's happened, and whether what we're seeing is not only spying on foreign countries but on our own citizens, without any proper legal oversight?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well, actually, the key words at the end of your sentence 'without proper legal oversight'. I don't accept that at all about the work of the British agencies, and I've checked for myself that the checks and balances and the legal oversight is there, and I'm confident that actually if you compare the checks and balances we have, including direct ministerial sign-off and oversight in the communications intelligence field, we have in my view some of the most robust, if not the most robust, checks and balances anywhere, of any jurisdictions that I'm aware of.

Of course we should have a debate. We've had a debate for months about the so-called snooper's charter, which is exactly about this, is exactly about how far should parliament go, should governments go, to pass legislation to allow an extension of information gathering powers, and I don't need to repeat to you there that there was a - that there is a division of opinion within the coalition government. I felt - and still feel - that the powers we've got on the statute book are considerable, they're proportionate, they allow the agencies to do their work and do so in a way that is properly scrutinised and held to account, but I wasn't persuaded by the proposal to go further.

And so I think we actually have had a debate about what the extent of surveillance powers and surveillance legislation should be. I can't stress enough how important I think it is that the ISC have got these new powers. Don't underestimate what a break with convention it is that we've got the heads of the intelligence agencies going to the ISC this Thursday, you know, in sort of televised evidence, and clearly away from the cameras they are giving all the evidence the ISC has asked of them. And all of us in senior positions across government have urged the intelligence agencies to account for themselves - because that's what accountability is all about - to the ISC, particularly now that the ISC, this panel of politicians and MPs from different parties, have got these considerably strengthened powers.

QUESTION

Just, are you aware of the scale of - the capacity of GCHQ to do these things? I think that's probably what people find quite astonishing.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well, I think we should be, in a sense, not surprised at all that our intelligence agencies, within the law, and subject to the checks and balances that I've talked about, use technology in order to keep us safe - the question is, do they do that in a way which is proportionate, do they do that in a way that is accountable, do they do that in a way which doesn't unduly trample on people's liberties and privacy? And that is one of the reasons why I felt the so-called 'snooper's charter' didn't get the balance right between an extension of surveillance powers and the traditions of privacy and freedom that we hold very dear in this country. Right - down to -

QUESTION

Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Savage from The Times. Last week a Tory MP said it might be a good idea to consider an amnesty for illegal immigrants, not only because that would help them pay tax and end the sort of black market, but there was also a de facto amnesty going on already, because UK BA's backlog was so long. Do you think there's any merit in that idea?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well it's clearly something that my party advocated in the past. I announced a few months ago that we're not advocating that anymore, it will not be in our party manifesto because I think we've made a lot of progress in the meantime to close the loopholes in the immigration system which created this problem in the first place, and, as you probably know, my party, we've been campaigning for longer than almost anybody else in British politics for the reintroduction of exit checks, for instance, which were removed by Labour and Conservative governments of the past, because without exit checks you can't tell whether people are overstaying their visa entitlement in this country, so I think as we make sure that the system is fair and open where it needs to be fair and open, because of course we want to welcome people to this country, who want to work hard, make a contribution, provide their expertise and skills for this country. I mean, you know, if you pull up the drawbridge, as some people want to, the NHS would keel over overnight - you know, we depend massively on people coming to this country and working and playing by the rules, but we also need to make sure that the huge loopholes, and particularly the abuse, the illegal abuse in the system, is tightened up. I think we've made significant progress in doing that and that's why, as a part of the kind of rebalance of the immigration system that we have implemented as a coalition government, we are not going to - we're not advocating that policy at this time.

QUESTION

Thanks. Jason Goss from the Daily Mail. Can I just take you back to MPs pay - you're clearly not happy with the idea of a large pay rise, but is it your view that the independent process should be allowed to run its course, and that if MPs are given this pay rise they should be free to accept it? Could I also just check on Europe, you mentioned David Cameron's cast iron guarantee - do you think his latest pledge on a referendum carries any more credibility than that?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Just on the latter - I've got it here actually; I suspected this might come up. I'll tell you, I agree with two colleagues who said the following - one said this in the House of Commons in October 2011 - 'My clear view is that it is when this parliament proposes to give up powers that there should be a referendum.' That is the guarantee that we have written into the law of the land. I absolutely believe that rule one, line one is - if you're giving up powers that belong to the British people you should ask them first.

I'd also agree with another colleague who said - actually, just in July of last year, also in the House of Commons - 'My own view is that it is necessary to see how Europe develops. What happens during the Eurozone crisis, what structure of Europe we're dealing with and what can be achieved to improve this country's relationship with Europe before we decide on any such referendum'.

Well, the first quote was from David Cameron; the second one was from William Hague, so I agreed with them just 12 months ago. We legislated together for this trigger. I've been completely consistent in my own view that the trigger is what we did together; it's consistent with what we said before the elections, it's consistent with what we've said at the time of the Lisbon Treaty.

Now, look, you know, it's not for me to intrude in the internal debates within the Conservative party - they're spending a lot of time talking to themselves at the moment, whether it's on marriage tax breaks or Europe, but I think it is in the national interest, which is what should govern all of this, we shouldn't be governed by the party interest or party divisions, that we have a referendum as we've guaranteed in law, when the rules change, and the option then should be a really simple and clear one. In or out. Now, that's what I've been saying for ages. The Conservatives, they're perfectly free to change their minds but they should be open about the fact that they keep changing their mind.

And I think - you know, what I want us to be is a leading member of a reformed European member - leading member of a reformed European Union. I don't want us, which is what the Conservative threat is, to be leaving the European Union altogether. That would destroy jobs, it would make people pour in this country, it would make us less safe and it would make us less able to deal with some of the big challenges we face.

On your point about IPSA - look, as I explained earlier, the reason why IPSA was set up was because of overwhelming and totally understandable public disgust and dismay about the way in which self-regulation works in the first place, right? So what we did then was to say, 'Okay, that doesn't work when politicians become judge and jury of their own pay and rations, we'll get someone else to do it for us without any political interference'. Now, we are all anticipating - a report I haven't seen yet - by someone who is independent, who is entirely beyond the reach of politicians, and before the report is even published, you're suggesting that somehow we should go back to the bad old days where -

QUESTION

I'm not suggesting; I'm asking you whether you think the process should be allowed to run its course.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well, I clearly do not think that we should, having established an independent body, say in anticipation of a report whose conclusions I haven't seen yet, but if they are what was reported in the newspapers I won't agree with, say that therefore we should pre-emptively not allow them to publish that report. Of course they should - I mean, IPSA's entirely free to do that, but I'm entirely free to say at this stage that if - if IPSA comes up with the suggestion that's been - that's been touted, that's not something that I would support myself. Oh sorry, do you just want to start in the front row?

QUESTION

Kevin Scorfield from The Sun. Just on MPs pay again - just in practical terms, we understand this morning that there's nothing - because it's an independent process - there's nothing you can do to stop yourself getting this extra money. I was just wondering in practical terms what you would then do with that extra 10,000? Would you give it to charity or is that something that you would maybe recommend that other MPs follow your example?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well, look, I mean, in the past I've done something similar when I sold my constituency home. The difference between the money that I got when I sold it, which was considerably more - I forget what the figure was; I can give it to you, from what, you know, what I bought, with help from taxpayers - I gave every single penny of that back to taxpayers. And I felt it was - you know, I felt then it was a personal decision - I can't stress enough; other people need to make up their own minds - but I gave the money back and I think I would do exactly the same thing if I was given a pay rise which I can't possibly justify at this time.

QUESTION

Thank you. Jason Beatty from The Daily Mail. Behind you you've got the words, 'Fairless Society' - I'm just wondering how you square that with the spending review which left the fifth poorest people in the country worse off than the second, third and fourth quintiles, and only 0.1% worse off than the fifth top quintile? And I'm just wondering whether you would carry through these welfare forums beyond 2015 as a party?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

I'll tell you what is not fair - what is not fair is sticking your head in the sand and saying, 'Oh, it's all too difficult to get rid of this generation's debts. We'll let our children and our grandchildren pay it off for us'. It's a bit like me and Miriam saying to our three kids, 'Oh, look, we've racked up these great credit card debts but we can't really be bothered to do anything with that; could you do it for us, please?' There's nothing progressive or fair about asking youngsters who aren't even in work yet to basically pay off the mistakes of this generation.

Someone eventually has to wipe the slate clean. The piper has to be paid at some point. And I know it's - you know, well, to be honest I was about to say I haven't got the faintest idea what the Labour party thinks anymore. They haven't apologised for crashing the British economy in the first place; they haven't, by the way, apologised to all the Liberal Democrats they've been vilifying for the last three years, especially when they now admit, belatedly, three years after - well, actually five years after the event - that we were right all along.

No, no, but what you're saying is, is it difficult to make savings to welfare? Yes, of course it is. Is it necessary? Yes. Look, the welfare bill at around £200 billion is - you know, is close to a third of total government expenditure. And the idea that when our economy has been deeply damaged by the Labour‑induced cardiac arrest back in 2008, which has left the economy significantly weaker. The OBR, the Office for Budget Responsibility, independently now estimates that the economy is a full 11% smaller - so it's just generating - hang on; let me just explain - generating less wealth than it would have done if the crash in 2008 had not happened.

So you can't carry on spending money on the same scale as you were before if the economy is not generating the same amount of money. You have to cut your cloth to suit your means, and that's why I think welfare reform is something you can't duck even, if I understand it correctly, the Labour party finally - finally have admitted that you can't duck welfare reform - but here's your point. You need to try and do that as fairly as possible. That's why I've, you know, been an outspoken advocate for a long time now that we need to look, for instance, at the benefits which are paid by other taxpayers, which go to very wealthy pensioners.

Now, we made a start on that last week by not giving the winter fuel payments to people who certainly don't need help with their heating bills in the Costa del Sol, but I think we need to go further and need to ask ourselves whether multi-millionaire pensioners need their TV licence paid for them. That's a classic area where I would like to make further progress. The Conservatives don't - they wrote that into the coalition agreement so that's not going to happen during this parliament. I think whoever is in power in the next parliament will need to look at that.

And then the other thing, of course, you need to do is to make sure that welfare reform always, always makes work pay, and that's what the universal credit is all about - making work pay, so you're always better off working than on welfare. I'll try and race through as many as I can now, yes.

QUESTION

Thank you; Deputy Prime Minister. John Higginson from Metro. Shale gas has been hailed in some quarters as the kind of saviour of Britain's future energy needs; how enthusiastic are you about it and do you have any doubts about it still?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Look, I mean, I think Davey set out the position really clearly, as long as you - as long as you make sure that it's done, you know, in a really sensible way, properly regulated, you do all the tests, you check that it can be done safely, then of course we shouldn't - we shouldn't sort of, you know, ignore the potential to extract shale gas in this country. The experts tell me that actually the thing that will disrupt or affect the public, interestingly, more than anything else is very significant volumes of lorry traffic as you move huge quantities of water and muck in and out of the shale gas extraction site.

So that's exactly the kind of thing you need to look at site by site by site. I think if you do it sensibly, the experience elsewhere in the world is it can play an important role in making sure that we have an affordable, sustainable energy mix. We shouldn't over-rely on any single source of energy generation, but I think having a - spreading our bets, if you like, is a really sensible thing to do as a country.

QUESTION

Alex Stevenson, Politics.co.uk. Yesterday, Danny Alexander said that UKIP will come, UKIP will go. Do you agree, and how quickly do you think UKIP will go away?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Do you know, I think UKIP appeals to a constituency which is kind of - which I totally understand in the sense that there are people who, you know, don't like a lot of what they see in the modern world. They - you know, from, I don't know, what they see on the telly, from how people behave, to obviously touchstone issues like immigration. And in a sense, what UKIP and Nigel Farage are projecting is a promise of going backwards, of, you know, 'Let's turn the clock back, let's go back to some sepia-tinted world where there were none of those challenges.' Now, you know, it obviously appeals to some people.

I could not be in a more different place on the political spectrum, because I think Liberals and liberalism is all about being optimistic about the future, looking forward, not looking back, being open and brave and candid about what the challenges are, and confronting them. But, you know, you see the kind of variance of UKIP, I think, in lots of different democracies in Europe at the moment. Again, perhaps not surprising, there are a lot of people who are worried about their jobs, they're worried about paying their bills, there's a lot of economic insecurity about. What we need to do is to explain that simply saying that you can turn the clock back is no way of dealing with the challenges that are unavoidable about our future.

QUESTION

Do you write them off as a protest vote?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

I think that - as I say, I think they appeal and appeal strongly to people who kind of - who want a sort of better yesterday, if you see what I mean. And I want a better tomorrow: that's the difference.

QUESTION

Andrew Woodcock from the Press Association. On Friday, there's a bill coming up in Parliament to rename one of the bank holidays Margaret Thatcher Day. I was just wondering if you think that's an acceptable prospect, and if not, why not, and who would you name a bank holiday after?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Isn't this part of the cornucopia of excellent liberal mainstream ideas from Peter Bone, including banning the BBC - who's here from the BBC? Sorry about that, yes - banning the burka, abolishing the Deputy Prime Minister's office - yes, all right, that's another cracker from my mate Peter Bone. He must hate that this press conference is happening if he wants to abolish the office.

Look, if you want to know I think what - you know, what's going on in the Conservative party, just look at some of these - some of these loopy ideas from Peter Bone, which are not - which are not by any stretch of the imagination - this is putting it kindly - addressing the kind of things that people really are worrying about, which is jobs, about heating bills, about getting their kids to have their sort of foot on the first rung of the property ladder. All of these things are not going to be solved by renaming a bank holiday a Margaret Thatcher Day or even, dare I say it, banning the BBC.

QUESTION

Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister. We've seen the - Rob Merrick from the Northern Echo. We've seen the impact of the bedroom tax for the first time, and it's not very pretty. There's a huge increase in rent arrears across towns and cities across the north, particularly in our own area in Teesside; there's really alarming evidence of three-bedroom flats nobody can move into because nobody can afford to rent them, so we will see communities with huge numbers of boarded-up homes, it is said. Do you worry that the critics of the bedroom tax are being proved correct?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

First, what's the problem? The problem is we have a mismatch of available properties and rooms and people who desperately need those properties and rooms for themselves. We have about 1.8 million people on the housing waiting list; we've about one million rooms which are vacant. You also have this - as you know, this discrepancy between people in the private-rented sector who use their - who can only use their housing benefit to have the number of rooms that they actually need for them and their family, but their neighbour, who might be receiving housing benefit in the social-rented sector, you know, can use that money even though they don't need all those rooms. So we're trying to make sense of that system.

What I totally accept - of course I accept - is that when you move from the way it is now to a more sensible system where people who need rooms can get them and where people who don't need the rooms make them available to people who need them, that you get - you get families who might get caught out. And that's why we're - we've offered about £150 million worth of money to councils so they can - if they know that there's a family who simply can't move out and simply can't make up that extra money per week, that they're given direct help.

And we've made a number of exemptions, as you know, for foster families, for families with men and women in the armed services, we've made exemptions for disabled children. We're constantly reviewing this. I'm constantly talking to Iain Duncan Smith about this. If we - if we see that there's clear evidence that we need to do more - need to do more to help those councils and those communities where this is really, you know, pinching hard in a way that was not intending, then of course we will do more.

And I - you know, I just think - I accept that making any transition is a controversial thing, but the principle of this I think is widely understood and supported. We've put a lot of money in to make sure that the difficult cases are -

QUESTION

It's not enough money. £150 million is not enough money; everybody would say that who's involved in this system. Why didn't you listen to the critics who said it would have these consequences of boarded-up homes and homes that nobody could afford to move into? You talk -

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well, I'd be a little bit - I'd be a little bit careful about extrapolating now about a policy which hasn't - has only just started. I've seen over the last three years over and over again - when we introduced, for instance, the welfare cap, we were told that people were going to be made homeless in the hundreds of thousands. I've heard over and over again predictions about changes in the welfare system which haven't materialised in the way that people claimed at first, but what I totally accept - totally accept the challenge, and Iain Duncan Smith does as well, and I'm making sure that DWP is doing this - is that they are in touch with the councils where this is having the greatest effect day in day out, week in week out, so that we can take further action if we need to.

QUESTION

Nick Lester for the Plymouth Herald newspaper. If I can just go and take you back to the Single Local Growth Fund which you referred to -

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Yes.

QUESTION

- at the very start and with your comments, just looking at the figures of the £2 billion annually, this is money that was already going to local areas or is going to be going to local areas anyway, and that's the lion's share. So it's hard to see what you've actually wrestled from Whitehall to go and give to the local areas as part of this. Thank you.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

It's a slightly circular argument. In one sense, everything, everything, goes from Whitehall; other than the things which are the running costs of Whitehall, everything is - in public spending is there for people to use in schools, in hospitals, in the welfare system and through local councils. Local councils spend what, about 25% of total public spending.

What we are saying is, 'Look, there's less money around, clearly. Whitehall's going to be cash-strapped for some time to come. But that - but councils should be given more freedom to decide what they do with the money that is available to them, and that money should be given to them sort of in a block without strings attached in the way that it was in the past.

And you know, don't - I wouldn't just gloss over how - what a positive change this can be. I can see it in - you know, in my own city where I'm an MP in Sheffield is that Sheffield has been given through the City Deal that we've struck with Sheffield powers of - well, new control over about £0.5 billion worth of money; new control to decide how skills, training and money is provided to people - young people locally; unprecedented powers about how the local transport system is run - I've never understood why a city like Sheffield has to constantly go to the beck and call of the Department for Transport, whereas a city like London can basically run its own transport system. This makes a huge, huge difference, you know. You can make money go a lot, lot further if you've got more freedom about how you use it.

Yes, Andy?

QUESTION

Andy Grice from the Independent. Several charities have warned that the decision to force the unemployed to wait a week before signing on for - before claiming Jobseeker's Allowance will result in more people relying on payday loan companies and food banks. Others have said this will deter the unemployed from taking short-term jobs. Given these companies, do you think the government should look again at this idea?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

No, I don't - I don't agree with that. Let's just remember what this is about. When - this is all about what happens when you start receiving Universal Credit, and one of the principles of Universal Credit is that people who receive Universal Credit in the future will receive Universal Credit much like you do a monthly wage, salary; so they'll get at the end of the month. And under the current rules, you would therefore receive Universal Credit at the end of the first month covering three and a half weeks of your - of your claim, because the first three days under the current rules you don't - you don't get - you don't get benefits.

What we're saying is, for that first month of Universal Credit, instead of receiving three and a half weeks, if you like, of Universal - worth of Universal Credit, you'll get three weeks. And this is by the way very much in line with practice in many other countries, not least in Europe.

Hardship payments, for those people who are really in hardship, of course will remain. So that support for people who are in hardship will remain. And here's the thing: we're using every single penny of the money that we save by going from three days to seven days to directly support people to get into work more effectively, so that they'll have to go to the Job Centre more frequently; they'll get more support in preparing CVs to find work; those who are struggling with English will be given more support and expected to do more to learn English. So it's not a sort of welfare cut. Far from it; it's actually making a benefit saving to put that money into getting people into work.

QUESTION

Thank you. Chris Mason, BBC News. Returning to the whole bugging series of questions from earlier on, do you see a distinction - obviously a spy's a spy, but do you see a distinction between spying on allies and spying on enemies?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Well look, the intelligence work that is done I think is so - is very broad now. I'm not sure if you heard on the radio this morning, there was a, you know, interesting piece about the work that's done between the intelligence agencies and British companies who have to be alert to industrial espionage from wherever that comes from.

So, you know, in a sense I think the work of our intelligence agencies is different now to the days of sort of John le Carré; it's - you know, it is facing up to a number of very different challenges. Stateless threats - you know, we used to only - spying was all about spying on states; now actually the biggest threats to governments are people who are of no state or government at all. As I say, information and intelligence for companies in the corporate sector now takes on an importance it never did in the past, and I think it's right for us to support the intelligence agencies to do that work well but to do it in a proportionate way in which they're fully held to account.

I'd better call it a day there, but look forward to seeing you next month. Thanks very much.