Nick Clegg’s responses to The Student Room

The first of the Party Leaders responses to The Student Room questions are unveiled….

Question 1Asked by eddy2375:

How do you plan to respond to the growing prevalence of unpaid internships, including parliamentary internships? What is your view on unpaid internships, placements and work experience in relation to the law and to National Minimum Wage rules? How will you ensure that internships are open to all, rather than to those who are in a position to work for free?

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“You’re right, there are now a lot of interns working very hard and getting paid little or nothing for it. The danger is ending up in a situation where internships are exclusive to those young people whose parents can afford to help them. Internships can be an amazing way of getting a flavour for a possible career when you’re young and that option should be open to as many young people as possible. I know myself how fantastic that experience can be – I got to intern in New York, working on a magazine called ‘The Nation’ for Christopher Hitchens. Opening up the opportunity to intern to more people is important to my party, and we have a plan to create 800,000 internships in our first year in office, helping all the young people now struggling to find work. We’ve made sure that those places will be paid at £55 a week – enough to cover basic costs, and more than you get collecting Job Seekers’ Allowance.”

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Question 2Variations asked by DiamondsAreForever, Ronar, Aimee, Philosopher-of-sorts, Schmokie Dragon:

With many students living independently of their parents, why should student finance depend on their income? Why not be fair, and give everyone an equal platform in which to start their education, giving everyone the same amount of money? Then the rest that they need they can supplement from external sources i.e. a job/overdraft/family.

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“We absolutely do need an equal platform, which is precisely why my party is determined to scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degrees. Right now students are expected to take on up to £10,000 in debt just from fees when it’s already tough enough to get a job and get on the housing ladder. So, even in these very difficult economic times, Liberal Democrats have a plan to phase out fees. I’m very proud to be the leader of the only party that believes university education should be based on ability – not on ability to pay”

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Question 3Asked by Prudy:

To what extent do you view university as a place for personal development and interest, learning and beginning research compared to providing training for the business world or world of work?

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“It’s both. Of course you should use your education to develop your skills, but ultimately education is about you, as an individual, reaching your own potential. Different people do that in different ways. I studied hard and my qualifications definitely put me in good stead when I graduated. But I also had a good time, I made great friends, and I got the most out of being with people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.”

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Question 4Asked by iloverockandroll:

What clubs and societies were you a member of in your university days? Do you still have the same interests today?

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“I wasn’t into student politics, but I did campaign for things I believed in, like the rights of indigenous peoples through an organization called Survival International. In terms of hobbies I tried out a few things, quite a lot of sport, I did some acting, and I even got into transcendental meditation for a while, which my friends still love to remind me.”

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Question 5Variations asked by Krakatoa, Tednol:

There’s been an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the young to the old over recent years – unsustainable pensions that won’t be available for our generation, huge house price rises and vastly increased healthcare spending primarily for older people – and this is likely to get worse as the baby boomers retire and there will be far fewer workers to pensioners. Do you think this is fair and what will you do, if anything, to address this?

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“It’s morally right that a country looks after its older generations. They did it when they were young, and don’t forget that we’ll all get old eventually. And older people contribute in many ways, too – more are working for longer, grandparents are often lifesavers for parents struggling to juggle work and home. I know Miriam and I depend enormously on our parents. But I do believe that young people should not have their future mortgaged because of mistakes they didn’t themselves make, which is what has happened in this economic crisis. So from scrapping fees, to investing in new, green technologies to create jobs, to rebalancing the tax system so that the wealthy pay their fair share and low and middle earners get £700 back – the Liberal Democrats are fighting for changes that reduce the burden on you.

We also have to transform our economy so its health doesn’t depend solely on casino banking in the City of London. You don’t want your children going through a recession like this. We have to build an economy that is based on new industries, on innovation and creativity, rather than debt and risk- taking. The next generation has a critical role in that.”

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Question 6Variations asked by The-Wi$e-One, SumTingWong, Tawm, ScoCmac, Repressor, Slam, CompactDestruction, Squirrelbo1, passthelemon,The Magic Manatee:

Will you reconsider the Digital Economy Bill considering the manner it was pushed through, without proper scrutiny, the lack of MPs in attendance at the Bill’s hearing and also taking into account that some ministers have demonstrated considerable lack of technical knowledge on the consequences of the proposed legislation?

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“We did our best to prevent the Digital Economy Bill being rushed through at the last moment. It badly needed more debate and amendment, and we are extremely worried that it will now lead to completely innocent people having their internet connections cut off. It was far too heavily weighted in favour of the big corporations and those who are worried about too much information becoming available. It badly needs to be repealed, and the issues revisited.”

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Question 7Asked by: Spongepantssquarebob:

What would you do on a gap year if you could take one today?

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“Top of my list would be a very long camping trip to Montana. The kids would have to be a bit older – the youngest is only one – but I saw a postcard recently of a crystal-clear lake in Montana and it looked so enticing. I love those vast, open spaces and I know my boys would absolutely love running riot in all that space.”

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Question 8Asked by: innerhollow:

For some time now, monetary policies have been made independently by the Bank of England, which stops decisions on these policies from being politically biased, thus preventing such situations as interest rates being modified unfavourably simply to garner votes. Similarly, are there any other areas of decision-making you feel would be best delegated to an independent body instead of remaining under government control (i.e. an independent drugs advisory committee) whereby these policies could then be decided free from political bias?

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“The idea of making the Bank of England independent of government was one of our platforms in the 1997 election, and I’m glad Gordon Brown took our advice on that. One of the problems with governments that have been in power too long is that they start believing that they can mould reality – interfering in the advice they are given or the statistics they face. All these advisory and statistical bodies need to be as independent as possible, otherwise they stop being useful. You mention drugs specifically – we would make the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs completely independent of government so that it is science, not politics, that determines drugs policy.”

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Question 9Asked by: Flossy_, robbo3045, fretter778, Schmokie Dragon, emmarainbow:

How and to what extent will your party continue to fight for LGBT equality/issues? How much of a real priority is this for your party?

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“It is absolutely central to what we believe that people should be able to live their lives as they see fit, without discrimination, and with equal rights in front of the law. Our constitution says that nobody should be held back by conformity, ignorance or intolerance, and that applies to someone’s sexuality just as it does to their race, gender, religion or beliefs.

What we want to do is to prioritise tackling homophobic bullying in schools, making sure that every council is taking action on this and that every school has a teacher trained to confront it. We will also encourage victims of homophobic hate crime to report it to the police, and we want to give a guarantee of asylum for refugees who are genuinely seeking asylum because they have been persecuted because of their sexual orientation. It is absolutely unacceptable to deport homosexual refugees back to countries where they will be persecuted all over again.”

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Question 10Asked by: tangohead, whizz_kid:

Recent discussions with regard to the cuts that need to be made to recover the national deficit has highlighted (by all parties) the scientific research budget as one of the places where cuts will take place.
I, like many others, believe that science is one of the key ways to bring us out of the economical situation we are in by reducing our dependence on banks. Simultaneously, won’t this result in a brain drain from the UK? What are your views on this, and what are your party policies on scientific research funding?

Nick Clegg’s answer:

“You are absolutely right that, for a generation now, our economy has been built on a set of assumptions about the behaviour of markets and the infallibility of financial services.
The economic crisis has rendered those assumptions obsolete. We urgently need to reinvent our economy on new principles, encouraging creativity but also putting science, maths, engineering and technology at the heart of that project. We need to rediscover our talent for making things as well as betting on the international money markets.

My grandfather was, for many years, the editor of the British Medical Journal and he always inspired me by the passionate way he talked about the value of independent scientific endeavour. Yet despite our extraordinary research record in this country, we still don’t make the transition from lab bench to marketplace, and it is making us less prosperous as a result.

In the current economic climate, I can’t promise you extra spending – it would be irresponsible and dishonest. But I can tell you that Vince Cable and I are very well aware of the role that science and R&D must have in our economy’s future, and we will respect the convention that the science budget, once allocated, is not used then for other purposes. The science community has a right to know that money allocated for projects won’t be snatched
away at a later date. We also need to make sure that the decisions on the funding of research projects are made on the basis of peer review not Whitehall interference – and that the results are published openly, regardless of the conclusions.”

Thank you Nick Clegg. For more information about the Liberal Democrats, their policies and Nick Clegg visit the Official Liberal Democrats website.

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For student reaction to Mr Clegg’s answers please see here.

The other main party leaders will be replying to the same questions on the following days:

  • Caroline Lucas – Live here
  • Gordon Brown – Live here
  • David Cameron – Live here