Webchat with Conservative leader David Cameron
David Cameron, Tory leader, joined us for a live webchat on 19 November 2009. This is an edited transcript of the chat, which covered tax inheritance and tax credits, education, help for families whose children have disabilities, the BBC licence fee, bankers' bonuses, breastfeeding and what David thinks of how politics is portrayed in The Thick of It.
DavidCameron: Hello, this is David Cameron signing in.
Childcare vouchers | Married Person's Tax Allowance | Tax credits | Education | Inheritance tax | Special needs | BBC licence fee | Residential care | Gordon Brown | Bankers and bonuses | MPs' expenses | Cancer drugs | Breastfeeding | Public meetings |Civil partnerships | Equality Bill | Nuclear weapons | NHS | Europe | Armed forces Personal
BecauseImworthit: I'm really concerned about the influence that the media has over events in our country. I think they are partly to blame for the way in which we went into recession, as all that was being reported was doom and gloom - and the forecast for more doom and gloom. Even when there were good news stories they managed to find negative ways of reporting on them. I don't want a controlled press - I think the press should have freedom - but how do we deal with this undue influence? What will you do, if you win the next election, about this?
DavidCameron: The media is powerful but I don't think we can blame them for the recession. The fact is that we borrowed too much as a country, the government borrowed too much and we now have to deal with a difficult situation. A free press in a free country shouldn't have state-controlled regulation, but we do need a sense of social responsibility and good, tough self-regulation.
Fathercandle: Are the Conservatives committed to keeping childcare vouchers? If not, will you commit to the money saved being spent on a replacement childcare scheme?
DavidCameron: We think the government is wrong to scrap them and we have been urging them to make a u-turn. It looks like this is now happening and we will keep up the pressure to make sure they do.
mumbot: My partner and I have been together for 14 years and have one gorgeous child with another on the way. We're not married but our commitment and love for each other and our children is for life. Will we be penalised for not being married through the introduction of the conservative married persons tax allowance? At the moment this is the only barrier to you winning my vote.
DavidCameron: To Mumbot and others who asked about married persons tax allowance. Congratulations on your impending arrival. It's great that you are so committed to each other and I do want to support couples and families.
That's why I want to get rid of the couple penalty in the tax credits system, which means that people are actually paid more benefits if the split up than if they stay together. It's crazy that the state is giving out that signal to families and encouraging couples to live apart. This isn't just something which would help married couples – it would help all cohabiting couples who qualify for Working Tax Credit.
I do also think it's important that as well as ending the couple penalty, the state sends out a positive message that commitment is important. One way of doing that is by recognising marriage in the tax system – but it's not the only way we want to reinforce commitment.
Our pledge to give every parent the right to request flexible working and our plans to increase the number of health visitors so that new parents have support in the home are designed to support all committed relationships – whether they are marriages or not.
Shineoncrazydiamond: My question is about tax credits - and I am sure I am not the only one to ask this. I work part time and am a lone parent. I rely on my tax credits for both childcare and quality of life. Can you tell me exactly what you intend to do with them? Are you going to make cuts in this area? And if so, what sort of cuts? A nice, straight non-waffle answer would be very much appreciated.
DavidCameron: Shineoncrazydiamond and others who asked about tax credits, here's a straight, non-waffle answer. As a part time worker and a lone parent, you should not lose out. We recognise that tax credits help families, that's why we introduced the first one way back in the 1990s. We would stop the payment of tested tax credits to families of incomes of more than £50,000. We've got a massive debt crisis in this country, and so I think that those payments aren't really affordable any more. We would also reform the whole administration of tax credits to make the system simpler, fairer, and stop the painful problems we've got at the moment where people are getting the wrong payments and then the Government has to claw the money back.
Tatt: Grammar schools were a powerful engine for social mobility - is that why your party doesn't support them? And please don't try to fob me off with talking about improving all schools when you know that many of your supporters would never use state schools. Supplementary question, will your children go to state secondary schools?
DavidCameron: To Tatt and everyone who asked about education, you are right that grammar schools are often excellent, and those that exist should stay. But the question we need to answer is this: what is the modern way to provide more good schools and help social mobility.
And we can do that by improving standards of discipline and teaching, and by busting open the state's monopoly so that anyone with a passion for education could set up a new school anywhere they wished. And to tackle the injustice of the poorest children going to the worst schools we will introduce a new pupil premium, so there is a real incentive for schools to take on those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
My children are already at state schools and I would like them to go through the state sector. I'll always do the right thing for them.
Scarletlilybug: What do you think about the target of 50% university participation? Is it desirable or realistic?
DavidCameron: I think we should encourage as many young people who want to go to university to do so. It's especially important at the moment when jobs are hard to come by, which is why we promised to fund an extra 10,000 places next year as part of our plan to Get Britain Working (funded by encouraging the early repayment of student loans).
But we also need good vocational courses - some good schemes are heavily oversubscribed. We know that many more young people want to do apprenticeships than can get on them, so we'll increase the number of apprenticeship places by 100,000.
Mamamiji: Following the Badman report and the wholesale adoption of it by the government without any or adequate consultation, and despite strong opposition and research disputing the validity of Mr Badman's report and warning against removing the parent's duty to educate children and placing it on the state, what does your party intend to do to safeguard the right of children to home education, and in particular to autonomous education?
Should I be permitted a further question, my second question is, would you agree that children should have a right to flexible education at schools as they are entitled to school placements anyway (and their parents still have to make tax payments even though the children are home schooled), and that the choice should not be 'either in school or out of school'; and how do you intend to ensure that children can access their schools.
DavidCameron: I do have concerns about the direction the Badman review has taken, and I've always been impressed by the commitment home educators have shown to their children. I think the commitment they show is admirable, and it's really disappointing that this review has cast suspicion on what they do. I strongly believe that we should trust parents more when it comes to determining the shape of their children's education and the whole thrust of our policies for schools are driven by a desire to give parents more control. I am concerned by the idea of closer monitoring of home educators and this is something my schools team have been looking at.
I am deeply committed to respecting individual choice and there are many reasons, some very personal, which may incline families to opt for home education. I want a future conservative government to support them in that choice.
Mellifluouscauliflower: One of the things that worries me about voting Tory is inheritance tax policy. I can clearly see I could benefit substantially. But I just don't understand it: we are in a financial mess and taxing the dead seems such a painless & victimless way to raise revenue.
DavidCameron: To Mellifluouscauliflower and anyone asking about inheritance tax, you are absolutely right that we're in a financial mess and we've got to deal with the deficit. Next year Britain is expected to borrow more than 13 per cent of our national income – that's nearly twice as much as when we almost went bust in the 1970s. So we've got to make tough choices and get to grips with this. And on pensions, public sector pay, and as I've just said, on tax credits, we've set out what needs to be done.
But at the same time, I do think we need to reward aspiration in this country. People shouldn't be punished for wanting to pass something on to their children, and that's why we've pledged to raise the threshold of inheritance tax.
Today the threshold is £325,000 and many people fear that they may be caught in the net of a death tax that really only ought to be there for the rich. In our plans only those leaving £1m or more would pay inheritance tax. But, crucially, we've always been clear about out how we would pay for it – and that's by taxing rich non-domiciled residents. We've also said that this is a pledge for a Parliament, not its first budget.
MollieO: Can you ask him if he intends to introduce the passport to disability system they have in Denmark and which he spoke about on the disabled child programme presented by Rosa Monckton. I don't have a disabled child but it was truly shocking to see the how the level of bureaucracy just made everything so much harder for parents caring for their disabled children.
Anonandlikeit: What is your take on epecial education provision? Specifically, inclusion vs special school provision, where would you government investment be? How would you support Special Schools and how would you ensure inclusion into mainstream schools is effective?
DavidCameron: To all those posting on special needs. My view is that inclusion is great for those who want it, but there are signs that the pendulum has swung too far and we are now pushing too many children with very special needs into mainstream schools. That's why we've said there should be a stop to the closure of special schools and a proper balance in the law that gives parents a real choice.
Riven: Are the Conservatives planning to change the four nappies a day rule for doubly incontinent disabled children? Frankly, it's disgusting and puts more pressure on parents, many of who have already had to give up work to be carers.
DavidCameron: On four nappies. I will look into this. With Ivan I don't remember being limited like this. The move to personal budgets and direct payments should help, but let me get back to you. I am sorry for not getting back to you re Bristol. Could you send your personal email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have been looking for your letter, but a quick e-mail would get us onto the case.
Riven: Direct payments are controlled by the social services, Dave, and they will often refuse to even assess your child. They are designed to save money, not support familes. We get six hours direct payments a week to pay for respite care. Six hours a week! For a child with severe cerebral palsy and severe epilpesy who requires 24-hour care. Whoop de doo. Social services will not increase it because of budget restrictions.
jjones: As a parent of two children with additional needs, I watched you on the programme When a Mother's Love is Not Enough, and I have to say I was pleased to see someone with your stature being so open about Ivan's life, an obviously painful and personal matter. It was good to see that someone like yourself understood the problems we endure on a daily basis.
I would like to know how you would change the system? Would you bring in the passport system you talked about?
DavidCameron: Thanks for your question. The thing I found with Ivan – and maybe you find it too – is that once you get over the shock and the worry and the upset about what is wrong with your child, most of all you are just incredibly confused about where to get the help and support you need. Before you know it, you are lost in a world of paperwork, bureaucracy, form-filling and phone calls - so there's a strong case for simplifying all of this and making things easier for parents and carers.
That's why I think we need to look at something they do in Austria, where a crack team of medical experts is on hand to act as a sort of one-stop-shop to assess families and get them the help they need.
I also want personal budgets, where parents can take a look at the total budget for their child and can choose what they want to spend the money on. That means making the direct payments system – I don't know whether you use it – a lot simpler and less bureaucratic. I think giving parents more control over the situation would be a massive help.
mollythetortoise: Can you tell me your plans for the BBC and the licence fee?
DavidCameron: On the BBC, I used to work in TV and have always believed that the Beeb is a vital part of broadcasting. I support the licence fee and want to see the different streams of revenue - advertising, subscription, and the licence fee - flowing into television so that our production base is strong and the quality on our screens stays high. That said, the BBC has got very overextended and the licence fee is high. There is now a healthy debate about this.
nickelbabe: What about having free residential homes for the elderly? My MIL is in a home which is eating at her savings and it'll be about four months when we have to sell her house to pay for the rest. This is a woman who has worked and saved her entire life to be able to give something to her children (of which she has four - two are now retired and living on state pensions, and two are working and can hardly afford their own bills.) The children as adults do rely on the money that might have come to them on her death, but now they'll have nothing at all and that's quite stressful.
DavidCameron: One change that we would make which is clear and costed, is this: today it is really unfair that people who have saved all their lives and then go into care have to sell their homes and pay for care. Those who haven't saved get it paid for. A solution would be to make available a system whereby people can opt to pay £8k aged 65 to totally protect their home if they go into care.
RTKangaMummy: What about those pensioners who have saved but want to live in their own home like my parents? They have to pay a fortune from their savings for carers to come to the house?
DavidCameron: RTkangamum, of course we should help people stay in their own homes. Good OT is particularly important and the system is not nearly flexible enough. The problem with the government's plans is that they seem to be suggesting that attendance allowance and DLA for pensioners would be scrapped. That would hit a lot of people. I just don't think they have thought it through.
morningpaper: David, do you think that Gordon Brown has been an unlucky Prime Minister?
DavidCameron: Has Gordon Brown been unlucky? It is a huge privilege to be PM. As he was Chancellor for ten years before being PM he can't exactly say, what a mess I've inherited...
mollythetortoise: What do you think of the proposed Tobin tax, a one-off tax on banks and bankers profits. I think this is a great idea. An absolutely win-win tax. A vote winner for sure!
DavidCameron: On banks, bankers and bonuses, the problem with a Tobin tax is that if we applied it here and others didn't follow we would lose lots of companies that would simply go overseas. It is important to remember that financial services is not just the city - there are hundreds of thousands of people employed in banks, building socs, insurance etc around the country.
What we need is better regulation and we would put the Bank of England back in charge. they should also be able to regulate the level of debt in the economy.
Iambanana: What is your take on parliamentary members of your party being prosecuted for fraud over the expenses scandal?
DavidCameron: If MPs have broken the law then they should be prosecuted. Transparency is the best answer - my shadow cabinet now put theirs up online straight away. When applied across the piece, this will stop bad claims and save money.
MrJustAbout: NICE turned down a drug for liver cancer today. How should the NICE balance the rights of a single patient to treatment against the tens or hundreds of patients who may need to lose their rights to treatment in order to pay for it?
DavidCameron: We want "value-based pricing" so that drugs companies get the drugs out more quickly and are paid by results, so sharing the risks.
Tambajam: Just wondering how much of a priority you place on supporting and encouraging breastfeeding? We know if a child is breastfed it reduces their chances of heart disease in adulthood yet campaigns such as 'change4life' make no mention of breastfeeding.
The national breastfeeding support infrastructure (eg national helpline) is currently held together by volunteers. In large parts of the country a mother is unable to receive face-to-face support from someone qualified to offer it. Government infant feeding survey revealed 90% of mothers who gave up in the first two weeks wished they could have continued further
DavidCameron: To Tambajam and anyone else asking about breastfeeding, breast feeding can make a real difference to childrens' long term health but too many mums do not get the support they need in the early days. We will introduce universal support from Sure Start health visitors to help give mums the encouragement and practical support they need, which is particularly critical when new parents don't have other members of their family close by for help.
I think health visitors can also have a role in linking new mothers with more experienced mums.
Housemum: You should tour the country, meeting Mumsnetters - we'll sort the country out for you (whilst also hearing the reading scheme book, making appt for MOT, cooking dinner...).
DavidCameron: To Housemum, I do tour the country. In particular I do 'Cameron Direct' public meetings which are just Q and A and no speeches. I've done 52 of these and have more planned. Perhaps we could do one in association with mumsnet. Talking to the team about it now...
WilfSell: What is your party's position on civil partnerships? How do you expect us to believe what you say when you appoint an adviser on family policy who says something entirely different to you on this matter?
DavidCameron: I support civil partnerships and voted for them in Parliament, and two of my senior frontbenchers have entered into civil partnerships in the past year. In my first party conference speech as leader, I said that commitment is important, whether it is between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man.
LeninGrotto: Do you support the Equality Bill and its positive action measures to help people from some groups who, for whatever reason, do not get the same opportunities as others for a work role or to serve as a judge or MP, for example, despite being equally suitable?
DavidCameron: There are things we support in the Equality Bill – especially the provisions for better transparency over equal pay in the workplace. We will also be making positive suggestions to help improve the bill, for instance by ensuring that companies which are found guilty of pay discrimination have to have a full pay audit. We suggested this as one of the ways to help bring equality about.
StarlightMcKenzie: Dear David (on behalf of DH), are nuclear deterrents relevant in today's international situation?
DavidCameron: Yes I believe a nuclear a nuclear deterrent is relevant in today's international situation. And the reason why is Britain should retain an independent nuclear deterrent is because it's the ultimate insurance policy against nuclear blackmail in a dangerous and uncertain world.
Scottishmummy: NHS trusts and imperative to reduce costs and reduced PCT spending have led to many inequalities in provision of NHS services. Indeed, where one lives determines the services delivered, there are already many trusts who do not adhere to national recommendations. In England and Scotland and Wales there is not parity of provision. So, in essence, the NHS is not national nor does it offer equitable universal services. In particular, the less affluent suffer more in allocation of resources how will you ensure enhanced universal provision of service and end the 'postcode lottery'.
DavidCameron: The tragic fact is that health inequalities in Britain today are as bad as they were in Victorian times. I think a big part of that problem can be combatted by prioritising public health – tackling obesity, smoking, drink and drug addiction.
So we've said that while cuts have to be made to spending because of the state of the public finances, the NHS is special and its budget should grow. In particular we've said that public health budgets should be ring-fenced and local health authorities should respond to the priorities in their area.
Swedes2Turnips: The Tories have been accused of castrating Britain's EU position by taking an autistic approach on Europe. What is the Tory position on Europe precisely?
DavidCameron: I want Britain to be an active member of the European Union – we are a major trading nation with a big role to play. But I do think that when powers are passed from Britain to Brussels, the British people should have the ultimate say. That's why we will pass a law introducing a referendum lock – that means in the future, any times extra powers are going to be transferred to Brussels, you will get a referendum.
In terms of our new grouping in the EU Parliament I want to make sure we're saying the same things about an open, flexible and trading EU in Brussels as we do in Westminster. That's what our new grouping stands for – and it's what millions of Europeans stand for too.
I would never let my party associate with extremist groups – our group in the European Parliament includes the Czech ODS Party, a longstanding ally of the Conservative Party, and the Party of the President of Poland, and Parties in the Governments of Latvia and the Netherlands.
Herbietea: My DH is in the RAF. He is very overstretched thanks to this Government's contempt for the Armed Forces in general. What are your plans for the Armed Forces?
I know we can't pull out of Afghanistan, but something needs to be done about manpower. There aren't enough men and women out there and there are barely enough left in this country to keep the equipment, aircraft and ships serviceable. DH regularly works 60+ hours a week. He has just been on a course, which had to be condensed from three weeks to two because of this Government and their cutbacks, where he worked from 7am until 1am every day (including the weekend). That is not fair.
I asked Gordon Brown a similar question, but all I got back was "we are proud of the Armed Forces". So please if you do take the time to answer can it be a real one, with real information?
Our Government commits the Forces to wars and duties around the world, but doesn't have the good grace to equip them properly or provide enough manpower. It would, also, be nice for the Forces to have a proper pay rise once in a while. What will your Government (when you get in wink) pledge to do for the Forces? PS I have had major troubles regarding my disability adaptations in my married quarter. I have repeatedly 'phoned Alan Duncan's office (my local MP) and written to him, yet he has never got back to me. Can you give him a telling off please?
DavidCameron: I'm really sorry that the reply I typed to you earlier seems to have been lost. RAF Brize Norton is in my constituency in Oxfordshire and it's a permanent reminder of the importance of this issue. I passionately believe that we need to do more for our armed forces and their families.
On day one of a Conservative Government I will immediately convene a War Cabinet and ensure that Whitehall is put on a war footing. We will ensure that our commitments are matched with the appropriate resources, and the size and shape of our Armed Forces will be determined by our Strategic Defence Review, which we will start immediately.
We have said in October that the Armed Forces will be exempt from a public sector pay freeze in 2011, and we will double the operational allowance. We'll also be publishing a Forces Family Manifesto at the next election. We'll be making sure that forces families don't get dropped down NHS waiting lists when they move home; that schools with a high proportion of forces kids get the funding and support they need; and that when servicemen and women go home on leave the clock starts as soon as they leave the base – not when they touch down on British soil. But supporting our forces is not just about what government does.
I also think our wider society needs to do more. That's why my party came up with the idea of Tickets for Troops, which asks sporting and music venues to donate tickets so that those home on leave can go to a match or a gig for free. You can find out more on the website www.ticketsfortroops.org.uk
Greeneyeshadow: Oatcakes? Really? By themselves? Don't you have them with cheese or something? [dry mouth emoticon].
DavidCameron: I like oatcakes with butter and cheese.
JuanMoreTime: What naff song or book do you really like?
DavidCameron: Naff song? My children are making me play a lot of Abba - Mamma Mia and Fernando. Naff book? I am obsessed by The Lorax - a great children's book.
TheGreatScootini: Which is your favourite Killers' song?
DavidCameron: All these things I've done. Nancy likes Human.
Maiakins: Do you watch The Thick of It? What do you think of it? Do the Opposition bits accurately represent the Conservative publicity machine?!?
DavidCameron: I love The Thick of It. V funny… but only true about the other lot (not).
DavidCameron: Thanks so much, I hope you feel we've covered most of the main issues raised - sorry not to have more time but I hope to come back to Mumsnet soon. We'll have a look through and if there are any glaring omissions I promise to get back to you as soon as possible. Also please don't hesitate to get in touch with my office either by letter or email.