Chris Bryant: You Ask The Questions

The MP and Europe minister answers your questions, such as 'How can you justify Trident's renewal?' and 'Is the BBC now openly left-wing?'

Monday 22 March 2010 01:00

Do you accept that Romania and Bulgaria were allowed into the EU because they used to be part of the Soviet bloc, and despite the fact that their judicial systems are a disgrace? Tina Cross, Bath

No. It's certainly true that they both have a deal of work to do to improve their justice systems and tackle corruption but the enlargement of the EU has been good for the UK. It has increased the amount of trade we can do, it has brought greater stability to Europe and it has helped many new countries share our democratic values.

Why should we let Balkan countries into the EU, when our trade with them seems mostly to involve their sending over organised crime? Violet Lambert, Liverpool

Encouraging countries in the Balkans to apply for membership of the EU and to make the necessary reforms before they can join is by far the best way of tackling drug-smuggling, people trafficking and corruption in the region. It is also the best way of ensuring the ethnic cleansing and the instability of the Nineties do not return.

The EU was invented to stop French and German people killing each other. That's worked. And economic integration is good. But why are more and more of our laws – our politics – imported from Brussels? William Manning, London

You're right that peace in the most war-torn continent in the world was one of the key aims behind the EU. So too was the single market, allowing people to prosper, trade, live and work anywhere in the Union. But the EU has also been a catalyst for freedom in countries that have suffered dictatorships of right and left. We in the UK rightly maintain the right to shape our own politics, our taxes, our cultural institutions and our benefits and criminal justice systems. But no country is a hermetically sealed unit and it is in our interests to get the whole EU to work together.

How many other European languages do you speak? Simon Walker, Southampton

I speak fluent Spanish (thanks to living in Spain as a child for five years) and my French improves after a glass or two. When really pushed I can pretend to speak Italian though this mostly consists of phrases from operas delivered exuberantly.

Given the EU was split over the Iraq war, what possible sense can there be in aiming for a common foreign and security policy? David Olperson, Ilfracombe

Europe won't agree on everything, but where it can agree it can have a far greater effect. On Iran's nuclear ambitions, on human rights abuses in Burma, on the war in Georgia, on the Middle East peace process, on relations with Russia and China, it's in the UK's interests for Europe to have a strong, disciplined, united voice. The fact that we work closely with Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Estonian, Romanian, German and other European troops and share a common strategy is vital to success in Afghanistan.

How can you possibly justify the renewal of Trident, when this country's debt is itself a threat to national security? Grant Pinchon, Exmouth

I want a world with fewer nuclear countries and fewer nuclear weapons. I'd prefer a world with no nuclear weapons at all. I'm proud that Labour has dramatically cut the number of UK nuclear weapons and that Gordon Brown has consistently led the world in multilateral disarmament talks. In Washington and New York next month he will be discussing with other world leaders how to go further and reduce nuclear proliferation.

Why did you think it was reasonable to "flip" the designation of your second home, for personal gain, funded by the taxpayer? Mary Weston, Derby

No. I have never made a personal gain out of the designation of my second home.

Being a loyal Brownite paid off for you, didn't it? Safe seat, easy ministerial post, etc. Has Gordon promised you a seat in Cabinet? Olivia Mutton, Ipswich

I have never thought of myself as a Brownite or a Blairite as I joined the party under Kinnock, way back in 1986, and served as a councillor for five years. I was amazed when the local members of the party selected me in the Rhondda in 2000, but I think it was because I knocked every member's door and proved I would never take their vote for granted. Nobody should treat any seat as "safe". The people of the Rhondda are fair but canny people and, like the party members, they would know if they were being taken for granted. I really enjoy my job at the Foreign Office. It is intellectually challenging, it is hard work, I have great colleagues and it gives me a real chance to tackle some of the issues I have long cared about.

Did your training as a priest prove to you that religion causes least damage when Church and State are kept poles apart? Amanda Hutchings, Newport

No. Religion can do immense good – just think of the Jubilee 2000 campaign that led to so much third world debt being cancelled. But it can also do immense harm when it is rigid, judgemental, hypocritical and fundamentalist. I'd prefer to see everyone treated equally under the law, regardless of their faith, their denomination or their philosophical outlook.

As a Christian, are you ashamed or surprised that Vatican priests were raping children? Did you suspect this was always going on? Frederick Gezelius, London

I am still deeply shocked that anyone in a position of authority could so abuse children. I suspect that abuse (of children and women) has gone on for centuries and I am glad that society no longer brushes it under the carpet. I hope my church (the C of E) soon has women bishops and wish the Catholic Church allowed married and women clergy.

When did you realise you were gay, when did you realise you weren't a Tory, and were the two related? Reema Shafiq, London

I finally worked out my sexuality when I was about 25 and my then girlfriend said, "you know you're gay don't you?" That's when I decided to leave the Church. It was when I saw the effect of Mrs Thatcher's policies on our inner cities that I realised that Conservatism was divisive, uncaring, economically incompetent and morally wrong. My fear is that a Cameron government would adopt the same scorch and burn approach.

Have you suffered from, or do you continue to suffer from, homophobia, whether in parliament or in the media? Suzanne Fleming, Bury

No, but the "Larry Grayson" stereotypes still persist and many children suffer horrible homophobic bullying.

Why has it taken Labour 12 years to get rid of appointed Lords? Anything to do with the coming election, perhaps? Catherine Bellingham, Southport

I have campaigned for an elected second chamber for ages. Indeed I resigned as a PPS so as to lead the campaign on the Labour backbenches, which led to the first ever Commons vote in favour of a wholly elected house. The difficulty is persuading the Lords to vote for reform as well. That's why I hope our manifesto this time will be absolutely clear – the unelected Lords can't oppose their own reform if it's been clearly voted for in a general election.

As an ex-BBC executive, can you confirm that Old Auntie gave up on impartiality years ago, and is now openly left-wing? Matthew, Terry Rochester

Nonsense. Several of the BBC's senior news reporters are former Conservatives and the fact that the BBC has backed out of showing its Panaroma programme on Lord Ashcroft before the election shows that if anything they kowtow to the Tories. I do, however, believe in the BBC. We get the best TV in the world and we shouldn't undermine it or surrender all of broadcasting to the market.

Which Tory are you most afraid of, and which member of the Shadow Cabinet is the Tories' biggest vulnerability? Belinda Groom, Reading

The whole Shadow Cabinet is really weak. They melt if you sit them close to the fire, as they hate being scrutinised. But I'm most afraid of Cameron, not because he's any good – after all he has completely failed to change his own party – but because in power he could do enormous damage to the UK. Osborne is their weakest link because he's been wrong on every economic issue. If they were in Downing Street, bringing in swingeing early cuts, the real danger is we would have a double-dip recession.

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