Speech

Transcript of the PM's YouTube interview in Oman

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Transcript of interview with YouTube given by the Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron in Oman on 24 February.

Presenter

Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time.  The format of our interview is we’ve got all the questions in from viewers around the world.  They’ve sent in text questions, they’ve sent in video questions, and we’ll split it up into some foreign policy and some domestic policy, so we hope to cover a nice broad range of things.  The first question is a video question, and it’s I think very important at this moment.  It’s an international one, and it’s about the situation - the uprisings we have seen in the Middle East.

Question

David, my question is this.  Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen civilians being killed and beaten in the streets in several Middle Eastern countries using weapons that were sold to them by British companies, and my question is: how do you justify going this week on a tour of North African and Middle Eastern countries with several representatives from weapons companies, with the aim of selling those governments yet more weapons, which we know will be used against their civilian population?

Presenter

So, he’s essentially asking: you’re sending mixed messages about Britain’s role in the Middle East.

Prime Minister

Not at all.  First of all, what I’ve been saying on this trip this week is the importance of supporting the aspirations of people in North African and Arab countries who want greater democracy, greater freedom, and greater rights.  That is why I started my trip in Cairo, in Egypt, meeting with the government - also meeting with the protestors and saying that I supported their aspirations - and having discussions with that government to try and get them to focus on a proper transition to a real civilian government and genuine democracy in Egypt.

On the issue of trade and on defence, we have some of the toughest controls anywhere in the world for selling defence equipment to other countries.  I don’t think that trade is wrong in every circumstance; after all, how can we expect a small country to manufacture and make all the things it needs to defend itself?  One of the countries I went to and one of the countries where we have sold defence equipment in the past and probably will in the future is Kuwait, a country that actually does have a level of democracy, and also a country that was invaded by its neighbour, Saddam Hussein.  So, I don’t accept this argument that it’s wrong in all circumstances to support the sale of defence equipment, but as I say, Britain, unlike many other countries, has extremely tough controls, and as for whether there is evidence about this equipment has been used, I haven’t seen that evidence, so I disagree I think with most parts of that question.

Presenter

Fair enough.  We’ll move on.  The next question is a text question.  It’s on a similar line.  They are going back and using Yugoslavia as an example.  In 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia because Yugoslav security forces were responsible for crimes against humanity and mass human rights abuses against the Kosovo civilian population.  Doesn’t the UK, as a founder of NATO, find Libya’s authorities are doing the same thing?

Prime Minister

Well, let me be clear.  I think what Libya’s authorities are doing is completely unacceptable.  This violence, this meting out of vicious, brutal repression, including using aeroplanes, including troops on the streets, including live ammunition, is completely unacceptable and it must stop.  I completely back what Barack Obama said last night about this, and these actions - yes, they must have consequences: consequences in the UN Security Council, consequences for those responsible for them, and we should, as Barack Obama said, look at the full range of options in terms of doing that.  People in Libya need to think extremely carefully about what they are doing, because those actions - yes, they should have consequences.

Presenter

So, in relation to that question, you wouldn’t draw any parallels between intervention in Yugoslavia years ago, and intervention now?

Prime Minister

I would condemn human rights abuses and the repression by governments of their people wherever they happen, Libya included, and all our minds at the moment are focused on that country, and quite rightly so.  What we have seen on our television screens, what is happening on the streets of Tripoli and elsewhere is completely unacceptable and it must stop, and I am absolutely clear: if it does not stop, there will be consequences.

Presenter

Okay.  One more international question before we move to domestic issues.

Question

[inaudible]

Presenter

The audio wasn’t brilliant on that one, but he was essentially saying: why are you not engaging more with Islamic parties who do win elections in this part of the world?  I guess from Gaza he’s referring to the likes of Hamas.  He might even allude to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Prime Minister

I think the point I’d make in Egypt is that I had the opportunity to go and meet people who had protested in Tahrir Square, people who wanted a genuine democracy in Egypt, and one of the points they made to me is that all too often, our government or the international community has just gone straight to the Muslim Brotherhood and has not talked to the other people of opposition parties, or people who want to set up parties, and their argument was: we need more time, we need more help to make sure this is a genuine, open democracy for the future, rather than just a choice between an autocratic regime on the one hand, or Islamic parties on the other.  So, I made a conscious decision to go and see the non-Islamic opposition to actually talk to them about what they want in the future of Egypt.  I think that is the right thing to do.

Presenter

Allowing new groups to flourish?

Prime Minister

Of course, absolutely.

Presenter

Let’s move on to some domestic issues.

Question

My name is Neil Garrett, and my question to you is this: you and your government seem to be rather intent on making an all out assault on public services in this country and inflicting a level of cuts on the poor and vulnerable members of our society, all the while ignoring the rather large elephant in the room, which is the obscene profits that the financial sector is making and the complete lack of taxes that they are paying this country.  So, in that case, why are you letting the banking sector get away with this behaviour, and why are you inflicting this level of cuts and damage on our society, and particularly on poor people in our society?

Prime Minister

Let me answer Neil very directly.  First of all, what he says about our assault on public services is just quite simply wrong.  If you take the most important public service of all, the National Health Service, we are not cutting that service - we are increasing spending on that service.  That is the service that poor and vulnerable people depend on more than anything else.  So, first of all, I completely reject the premise of his question.  The question he asked - why are we having to make cuts at all? - well, it was because of the complete and utter mess the economy was left in by the last Labour government, who left us with the biggest budget deficit anywhere in the developed world.  People sometimes talk about the problems faced by Greece or by Portugal.  Our budget deficit, when I became Prime Minister, was bigger than the one in Greece - bigger than the one in Portugal.  It is Labour’s mess that we are having to clear up, and that does mean making some spending reductions.

Now, as for his question about taxing the banks: unlike the last Labour government that refused to act before other countries acted, we have introduced a bank levy that will raise over £10 billion in this parliament.  So, under our arrangements with the banks, the banks will pay more in tax; they will do more lending, particularly to small businesses; and they will have a smaller bonus pool this year.  Those are achievements that the last Labour government completely failed to achieve.  Now, it is difficult, making these spending reductions, but we are trying to do it in as fair a way as possible, and if you look at our budget and our spending round, it’s actually the better off in our country who will pay more, both in cash terms and as a percentage of their income in order to clean up the mess that we are left by Labour.

Presenter

So, on the premise of what Neil was saying about the banks, though - you feel that the banks are ‘being punished enough’?  He was basically saying the banks should be punished.  Are you saying that they are being punished enough?

Prime Minister

I want them to pay more in tax.  They will pay more in tax, but the point I would make is this.  We do need an economic recovery, and to get a recovery you need banks to lend money.  So, you have a choice in politics.  You can go on and on and on about punishing the banks, or you can do what we’ve done, which is actually get more tax out of them - get more revenue out of them, so they will be paying more into the exchequer, and at the same time, we’ve got them lending more money to business.  That’s what we want.

Presenter

Let’s move on to our next question, a text one: ‘Respected Prime Minister, what are the ways and methods your government is taking to reduce the unemployment rate for recent graduates, both national and international?’ This is a hot one, because you’ve got so many people coming out of university and going, ‘I don’t have a job - I can’t find a job.’

Prime Minister

Well, I feel for those people, because it is extremely difficult at the moment, and we have seen, regrettably, a rise in unemployment.  The most important thing we can do is get the economy growing.  That is how we get jobs going - by making sure government is keeping corporate taxes down, which we are doing.  We’re going to have the lowest corporate tax rate anywhere in the G7 to attract businesses in, to encourage business investment.  That is the most important thing that we can do and what’s happening in Britain is a rebalancing of our economy.  For years we were too reliant on one industry - finance, in one corner of the country - the south of England.  We need a rebalancing of the economy towards manufacturing, investment, exports, business growth across the country, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here in the Gulf this week, I’m determined to link Britain up to the fastest growing countries of the world, taking business investment and businesses to China, to India, here in the Gulf to help our economy grow.  That’s the best thing we can do for graduates.

The other thing is to make it easier for businesses to take people on.  That is about simplifying taxes, simplifying regulation, encouraging businesses to grow and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Presenter

So, in answer to the question there, which was asking what’s being done specifically, your argument is fix the economy, the jobs will follow.

Prime Minister

Fix the economy, help business invest, take regulation off business, give businesses low tax rates.  In the end, it is businesses that create jobs.  Government can’t create long-term jobs in the private sector.  It is businesses that do that and we’ve got to make the atmosphere for business better so they can expand and they can grow.

Presenter

Okay, let’s move on, next question.  I think it’s another text one; it is.  This was, incidentally, the second most popular question, because viewers would submit questions and then members of the public would vote.  Why is marijuana illegal when alcohol and tobacco are more addictive and dangerous to our health but we manage to control them?  Wouldn’t education about drugs from a younger age be better?

Prime Minister

Well, there’s one bit of that question I agree with, which I think education about drugs is vital and we should make sure that education programmes are there in our schools and we should make sure that they work.  But I don’t really accept the rest of the question.  I think if you actually look at the sort of marijuana that is on sale today, it is actually incredibly damaging, very, very toxic and leads to, in many cases, huge mental health problems.  But I think the more fundamental reason for not making these drugs legal is that to make them legal would make them even more prevalent and would increase use levels even more than they are now.  So I don’t think it is the right answer.  I think a combination of education and also treatment programmes for drug addicts, I think those are the two most important planks of a proper anti-drug policy.

Presenter

But the argument that it could be used as medicinal properties, that was another question we actually had, a person saying it’s got proven medicinal properties.  If used properly and regulated properly it could actually be quite helpful.

Prime Minister

That is a matter for the science and medical authorities to determine and they are free to make independent determinations about that.  But on the question here about whether illegal drugs should be made legal, my answer is no.

Presenter

Okay then.  I think we’re moving back to some international questions now, another video.

Question

Hello Prime Minister.  My question is this: what is the reason for aggressively pursuing Iran for its nuclear programme whilst Israel, which is the region’s only rogue nuclear state, receives no comparable attention and can you see how this double standard may constitute a destabilising factor in the region?

Presenter

It’s a great question, isn’t it?

Prime Minister

I’d make two points to Tim.  First of all, we support the Non-Proliferation Treaty and we believe that everyone should fulfil their obligations under that Treaty.  But I would make this point about Iran which I think does make Iran a special case.  I can’t think of another country anywhere in the world that has actually said it wants to obliterate one of its neighbouring countries.  It has said that about Israel.  That seems to me to make it materially different from other countries.  To make that statement, it wants to wipe another country in its neighbourhood off the map, and it is pursuing, to all intents and purposes, a nuclear weapon I think makes it a special case.  And that’s why it’s right to have the sanctions, to take a very tough approach and to say to the Iranian government ‘there is another path for you.  You can have civil nuclear power.  You can have full engagement in the world community, but if you go down this path of nuclear weapons you should expect to be cut off from the rest of the world, you should expect sanctions and you should expect to be treated as a pariah’.

Presenter

But why should Iran have to declare that and Israel not?  There’s still so much ambiguity about Israel’s nuclear weapons in the first place.

Prime Minister

As I said, everyone should apply the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  I think that is absolutely key, but I think there is a special case here with Iran, a country that is trying to get a nuclear weapon and that is saying that it believes in wiping another country off the map.  I can’t think of another country that has made that statement and that’s why I think this is a very special case.  And it would lead to, if we are concerned about proliferation, it could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which nobody wants to see.

Presenter

Next question.

Question

My question is this, Prime Minister: with the UN already having called for the US to investigate the torture that we now know for a fact to have taken place during the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, will you act on any revelations of British involvement in torture, extraordinary rendition or FRAGO 242?

Prime Minister

Well, the short answer to that is yes and I have already acted.  There have been accusations not that British people tortured anybody, but accusations of so-called complicity in torture and that is why when my government got in. We very quickly decided to settle all the outstanding cases against the British government and to deal with those. And then to set up an independent enquiry by a respected judge, Justice Gibson, who’s going to look into these accusations of complicity surrounding all the aspects of Guantanamo Bay, and we should act on the evidence.  And I want Britain to clear any stain off its name in this area.  I think that is extremely important.  And it’s important not just because we should be clear that torture is wrong and cannot be justified, but I also want to make sure that the security services in Britain, who do a very important job in keeping us safe, are not stuck in the courts pursuing legal actions, but are actually out there doing their work to keep us safe.

Presenter

Okay.  Final international question and this, incidentally, was the most popular question.  I think it actually ties in to some of the earlier things we talked about the economy.  If Britain’s making financial cuts, why are we still fighting in Afghanistan?  Shouldn’t we be making Britain safe first?  The argument being you’re spending money on ongoing wars, but making people suffer, if I can use that word, at home with financial cuts.

Prime Minister

Well, my argument would be that what we’re doing in Afghanistan is about making Britain safe.  I mean we have to remember what Afghanistan was under the Taliban.  It was a state that gave a home to Al Qaeda and to terrorist training camps and from those training camps came many people including, regrettably, British citizens who went out and trained there who then committed atrocities and terrorist acts across the world, including in the UK.  So the reason for being in Afghanistan, it’s not some neo-colonial attempt to change that country, it’s very pure and simple: we want an Afghanistan that is able to take control of its own security and its own safety without the need for British troops, but that does not have terrorist training camps that threaten the UK.  That is our aim.  It’s no more than that.  We want Afghanistan to be run by the Afghans for the Afghans.  It’s as simple as that.

Presenter

So, to answer that question, it’s worth the money.

Prime Minister

It is obviously an expensive and difficult endeavour and we have given a huge amount in terms of the lives of our soldiers who’ve been lost in Afghanistan.  I’m acutely conscious of that and the extraordinary sacrifices that our armed services make every day while they are there.  I don’t want them to be there one day longer than is necessary and as soon as Afghanistan is capable of taking care of its own security with its own army, its own police force then those British soldiers will come home.

Presenter

We’ll keep moving, Prime Minister, because I don’t want us to run out of time.  I’d like to get through all the questions.  We’re back to domestic questions now with an international flavour.  Would you please give your countrymen the chance to vote on whether or not we stay in the European Union?  As our leader, you are obliged to present our countrymen’s views.  Give it a chance.  Put an end to this debate once and for all.

Prime Minister

Well, again, I’m not sure I agree with the context of the question.  I don’t actually think if you hold a vote on these things you necessarily put an end to the question once and for all.  I have a very clear view, a view which I put into my party’s manifesto, which is that we should be in the European Union because Britain needs to be in that group of nations.  They’re our most important trading partners.  We need a say in the rules of the European Union and our membership gives us that.  But we want to change the European Union and what we have done, and no British government has done this before, is we have passed an Act through Parliament that says that if ever there is a treaty that passes power from Westminster to Brussels the British people get a referendum guaranteed.  That is a big change in our, if you like, way of dealing with our constitution, but I don’t believe an in/out referendum is right, because I don’t believe leaving the European Union would be in Britain’s interests.

Presenter

Okay then.  Another video for you.

Question

Hello, Mr Cameron.  We are two teenagers with plans to go to university.  We want to know why only English students have to pay extortionate fees instead of all students from Wales and Scotland.  We can see no logic or fairness in this and feel all students should be in this together.  If only white pupils had to pay and not other ethnic groups there would be an uproar and we see little difference between the two scenarios.  Yours sincerely, the next generation of voters.

Presenter

So, the argument being that there is discrimination in the education system.

Prime Minister

What I would say to Lins and to Taylor is that it’s not discrimination; it’s devolution.  There is a parliament in Scotland; there is an assembly in Wales.  They have decided that with the money they have, they are not going to charge students tuition fees; instead, they are going to have to save money elsewhere.  Now, that is their decision.  I happen to think it’s not the right decision, and I think over time they will see that the reforms we’re making in England will lead to stronger universities with a more secure financial base that will be able to expand and grow, and that will be able to compete with universities across Europe and across the world - which is going to be absolutely vital for our industrial and economic future.  But it is a decision - that was the whole point of devolution: different countries within the United Kingdom can make different decisions.

But if you’re not charging your students, you’re going to have to find the money from somewhere else, and some of the universities in those countries, I think, are already to starting to say: well, we’re not able to make some of the investments that English universities are able to make, because we don’t charge fees.  But, again, that is a matter for Scotland, a matter for Wales.  I think the system we have put in place is right; it actually means that students only start paying back money when they earn £21,000.  So what we’re doing, effectively, is saying, you’ve got a choice: you can either ask taxpayers to fund the expansion of university education, or you have to ask students.  And we’re not asking all students; we’re asking only successful graduates, who are earning more than £21,000, to make that payment.  I think that is the right answer, but Scotland and Wales have to make their own decisions.

Question

Immigration is one of the top issues facing today’s society.  It is estimated that Labour let in over three million.  Recent newspaper articles have debated about the number of illegal immigrants that are currently claiming benefits.  I don’t agree with taking more out the system than you put in.  In Spain, for example, they have a system where, for every year you work, you save three months’ unemployment benefit, entitling the person to 75% of their gross pay should they ever become unemployed.  How do you plan to tackle the issue of immigration and the number of immigrants that are already here?

Prime Minister

What I would say is two answers, really.  First of all, we need to put proper controls on immigration, and we’ve said that we’re going to have a cap; we’re going to limit immigration.  Under Labour, net immigration was in the hundreds of thousands, and that’s where the three million figure comes from; we would like to see that figure of net migration come down from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands a year.  I think that is perfectly possible and achievable, particularly if we deal with the abuses - if you look at things like the student visa system, actually, if you get rid of the bogus students, the people who aren’t really coming to study, I think there’s still plenty of room for talented international students to come to Britain.

But the second half of the answer is actually not to do with immigration; it’s to do with welfare reform.  One of the reasons so many people came to Britain is because we left too many of our own citizens sitting on benefits, unable to work.  We are actually getting private companies, voluntary sector companies, to help those people off benefits and into work with the appropriate training.  And that will reduce the demand for immigration, which I think is a very key part to making sure we have a more balanced migration policy.

Presenter

Prime Minister, those are the end of our questions; however, there are three questions which are going to be asked to every leader who does the YouTube Worldview interviews.  They have already been asked to President Barack Obama in January; it’s your turn.  First question: tell us one experience that changed the way you view the world.

Prime Minister

There are lots of moments.  I think of the Live Aid, when I was relatively young, when that happened - the extraordinary pictures from Ethiopia, I think, seared into all our minds the unbelievable world poverty.  I suppose the experience that made me think a lot, politically, was the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I had spent some time behind the Iron Curtain, I had travelled through Russia beforehand, and I think that incredible year of 1989 was a momentous year.  I think so many people had felt that change wasn’t possible, and it proved that change was possible; a more bright, democratic future was possible.  And there are some echoes with what is happened in our world today.  So I suppose I am an optimist, I always like to think on the bright side, and when I think of an experience that gave me a great lift in thinking about life and the future of our planet and the people who live on it, actually that year of liberation was an incredible year.

Presenter

I would think there are a lot of young people looking at 2011 in the same way, although we are only two months into 2011.

Prime Minister

Let’s hope that - already there are some very positive signs.  Of course there are risks, there are always risks, but the chance of human freedom, that feeling we all have in our breasts of wanting to be free, to be in control of our own destiny, it’s a universal feeling.

Presenter

This is a question I really want to hear your answer to.  If you could ask one question of a world leader, like I’m doing right now, what would it be and to whom?

Prime Minister

Are we allowed alive or dead on this one?

Presenter

Let’s go alive.

Prime Minister

That is difficult.  I think my question right now would be to Colonel Gaddafi, which is what on earth do you think you are doing?  Stop it.  Give your people the chance of freedom, democracy and a better future, which is what everyone in our world wants and deserves.  I think if it was anyone ever, I think it would have to be Winston Churchill in 1940, I think the most incredible year in British history when we stood alone and the whole of the world seemed to be against us, with only us standing against Hitler and all of the armies he had amassed.  I think understanding how Churchill maintained that courage and that fortitude to take his country, my country through that incredibly difficult time - I have read so many books and articles and stories about that period, but to ask him what it felt like and how he kept so steadfast, I think would be fascinating.

Presenter

Okay, and the final of the big three questions is what is the biggest problem facing the next generation, not necessarily us today?

Prime Minister

This is a very difficult - I think if it’s the next generation, I think the challenge of climate change is getting greater and in some ways more difficult.  I think in terms of today, I would still say today it is the combination of global poverty, where we still have millions of people living on less than $1 a day in incredible poverty in our world, and in the end the answer to that is not aid.  The answer to that is going to be getting economies to grow and getting job opportunities for people across the world.  That applies as much in a wealth country like my own, where the need to get economies growing, to get good jobs for our people, is absolutely the priority right now, and that is the priority right across the world from the poorest people in the poorest countries to some of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Presenter

Prime Minister, it has been a pleasure talking to you.  Thank you for your time.  On behalf of the viewers, thank you as well.

Prime Minister

Thank you.