Gordon Brown Transcript

Thursday 4 February 2010

Gordon Brown Transcript

Saga speaks to Gordan Brown

PAUL LEWIS: Hello. In the next few weeks we will all have to decide who to vote for in the General Election, and the leaders of the three biggest parties in Parliament have agreed to talk to Saga about their plans. Today it's the Labour Party - behind in the polls, but not that far behind. And when the votes are finally counted, Gordon Brown still hopes to be Prime Minister.

I am in Downing Street with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Prime Minister, thank you very much for doing this.

GORDON BROWN: It's very nice to meet you.

PAUL LEWIS: Now, Prime Minister, people over 50 are going to be crucial in this election, the majority of people voting, most likely, and in some marginal constituencies they are going to make the difference between winning the seat and losing it.

What we have got for you today is a selection from the thousands of questions that have come in from Saga readers, which I'm going to put to you and I hope you are going to be able to answer for us.

You of course are more closely associated with the Labour government than anyone: Chancellor of course for most of the time, and now Prime Minister, so if people are going to think about voting Labour, it is you they are going to be thinking of, and of course you want to remain in that post as Prime Minister.

GORDON BROWN: Yes. I think what people want to think about is not just past achievements but also about the future, and I think they will find that in our manifesto, particularly the sections that deal with the care of the elderly and how we meet the needs of an ageing population and how we improve the health service, and indeed the opportunities for leisure and education, we will be talking about the future.

PAUL LEWIS: Okay. We are starting with care for the elderly. I have a question here from C Newman, and also from Sandra Wall. They say - and they come back to this 13 years in power question:

"Your recent announcement on paying for care postponed things still further. You are evading the question of who will pay for it. Why is it taking so long?"

You did have a Royal Commission when you first came into office.

GORDON BROWN: We had a Royal Commission; it couldn't reach agreement. Now I think people are more aware of the challenges that we face, the demographic challenges. Look, we are facing a challenge because more people - and this is a great thing, thankfully - are living longer. There are 50 per cent more over 80, a rising number of people over 100, and we have to meet that challenge.

When we came in, the first thing we had to deal with was pension and poverty. Then we had to deal with improving the National Health Service and making it far better, and I hope that readers and viewers will see that the National Health Service has improved in the care it is able to offer the elderly, and has certainly made a huge amount of investment.

So now we have to deal with this tremendous burning question for many families: how do they meet the costs of social care? If they have, at a later age in their life, to need help either in the home or residentially, how do we provide it?

Now, we are doing this in three stages:

First of all, we are saying that people who want to stay in their own homes, which is what most people do want to do, will get the urgent need help, the domiciliary care that they need, free of charge.

PAUL LEWIS: And that is without a means test.

GORDON BROWN: Without a means test. Before the means test -- I think it was about 23,000. If you had over 23,000, you wouldn't get it. Now it's going to be free of a means test, coming in in April next year. That means that a lot of people who would otherwise go into an institution when they didn't really want to will be able to stay in their homes far longer. I think this is the start of the social care transformation.

The second is what we do when people have to go into institutional care, so we are saying that in the coming Parliament there will be a limit. After two years there will be no further payments having to be made to

PAUL LEWIS: Does that include for the rent and for the accommodation costs as well as the nursing costs?

GORDON BROWN: No, it includes the nursing cost.

PAUL LEWIS: Only the nursing cost. People will still have to pay for living in the home?

GORDON BROWN: There are arrangements made for that.

So that's the second stage.

The third stage is moving to a universal care system, where we have to review what the costs will actually mean and how we can insure ourselves against the risk. Basically, it's about a better insurance system, because not everybody will end up in an old people's home; lots of people will be able to stay at home, but can we find a way of insuring people against the risks of doing so?

So Stage 1: Urgent needs met in people's homes. Stage 2: A limit on the costs you will have to pay if you are in an old people's home. Stage 3: The comprehensive system that we want to see.

PAUL LEWIS: And how will that be paid for? That was the point that was being made.

GORDON BROWN: The first urgent needs care is paid for by the redirection of resources within social care and the health service, and that has been announced and how we would do it.

The second is by freezing the Inheritance Tax thresholds and other measures that the Chancellor took in his budget.

The third is -- that is the third stage which will come in after 2015 -- that is the subject of the review in the next Parliament by people who will look at the financial mechanisms.

PAUL LEWIS: So it could be a death tax. It could be a tax when people die -- a compulsory tax on everybody's estate?

GORDON BROWN: Can I put it the other way round? There is no decision made on anything like that. There will be no question of an Inheritance Tax change of that sort in the next Parliament -- no question at all. What we have got to do is set up a review that looks at the financial options for the Parliament after that.

Now, why is it taking time? Because we are dealing with a huge challenge. You see, my mother spent some time in an old people's home but she would have preferred to have been at home, and she would have preferred to have been there with the services that are available. So look at it this way: if you can persuade people that they can get the best services in their home, then the additional costs that are incurred of having to go into an old people's home will be reduced. There are savings there, and we reckon there are probably about 60,000 people who go into old people's homes who would not need to go into old people's homes if we had these proper domiciliary services.

PAUL LEWIS: I will ask you very briefly about carers, because a lot of people who live at home are not cared for by the state, they are cared for by an army of 6 million people who do it for nothing and save the state a great deal of money. What are you going to do to help carers?

GORDON BROWN: I'm very concerned about this because we rely on carers, and carers do a quiet behind the scenes brilliant job helping relatives. Of course we have double carers now, we have got people caring for their elderly relatives while caring for their children, and that's a big problem as well.

PAUL LEWIS: We have an email from someone who says she's in a five generation family.

GORDON BROWN: That's a quadruple carer, and we do understand that. So the carer's allowance is an issue. Getting pensions rights for carers: we have made a huge advance on that.

PAUL LEWIS: So they will get the state pension more easily in future.

GORDON BROWN: Yes, because basically we account for the time that they are caring and make sure they get it. So most women didn't get the full state pension; now they will.

Then the next stage is respite for carers, and we are doing a huge amount about that, and then training for carers. So we need to give the support to carers that they need to do a job that we know is vital to the whole community, but we have relied on people and their goodwill in this area for a long time.

PAUL LEWIS: And one very specific thing that people have said to us: people who are pensionable age lose their state pension or lose their carer's allowance when they get their state pension. Jenny O'Neill and Susan Hetcher have both asked:

"Why do I lose my carer's allowance just because I claim my state pension?"

GORDON BROWN: Well, this is something we are looking at because it is something of a problem, because people can be carers after the age of 60, after the age of 65, and we recognise that that is an issue that has to be looked at.

PAUL LEWIS: Now, moving on to tax, which should of course be your special subject, Mr Brown:

The basic rate of tax on savings is deducted automatically. Many pensioners don't pay tax, but that tax is taken off and they have to ask for it back. Something like £200 million, the Revenue says, is sitting there in Government coffers that should not be there.

Will you do anything about taxing the interest on savings of older people?

GORDON BROWN: Well, as you know, what we have tried to do, first of all, is raise the personal allowances for pensioners so that less pensioners pay tax. So generally, I think a couple over 75, no tax paid if their income is £10,000, after the result of the decisions of this budget.

PAUL LEWIS: So that is from 2011 then?

GORDON BROWN: Yes. So we are taking more people out of taxes as a result of these decisions, and as you know, we have tried to make it the case that a lower proportion of pensioners pay income tax by the actions that we have taken.

As far as the savings tax is concerned, this is a matter of getting the system working in the right direction, so basically people find it deducted and then they reclaim --

PAUL LEWIS: A lot of people don't do the reclaim, though, do they?

GORDON BROWN: We have to find a better way of doing this. I accept there are better ways of doing, this, but the principle is that people should get that money back.

PAUL LEWIS: So still taxed, but find a better way of getting it back to them.

You mention tax allowances, and I'm glad you do because we have had two questions on this.

B Costafine and Geoffrey Smith both complain:

"You mention that there is an allowance up to £10,000 soon for those over 75 before they have to start paying tax, but of course if their income exceeds about 23,000, so 22,900, they then begin to lose that extra allowance. So there's a means test on the extra allowance."

More and more pensioners have incomes over £22,900. They object to it.

GORDON BROWN: Well, that is a historic system that we inherited over a long period of years. There may be a case for looking at it, but we have got to balance off everything that we do with the general needs of the economy, and then the general needs of revenue.

Look, we cut the basic rate of tax. It was 23p when we came into power. We cut it to 20p, and that is the basic rate that most people pay -- savings of course in another way. So I think we've got to rest on the fact at the moment that we have cut the basic rate of tax from 23 pence to 20 pence, and that is the rate that most pensioners, if they are paying tax, will pay.

PAUL LEWIS: Yes. I have to say that some people have been emailing us saying "When are you going to give us back the money you took when you raised the lower rate from 10p to 20p?"

A very brief answer, if you wouldn't mind.

GORDON BROWN: Well, what we did is we compensated all pensioners.

PAUL LEWIS: So they have been compensated.

GORDON BROWN: They have.

PAUL LEWIS: Sticking with tax for a moment, Inheritance Tax, Prime Minister.

People are saying:

"What's the incentive to save when the Revenue takes 40% away on anything over the level of Inheritance Tax?"

And other people have made the point to me -- that was Peter Wells making that point. Other people have said, "I've paid tax on this money. Then I saved it up. Then I have paid tax on the interest, and when I die, you tax it again."

GORDON BROWN: The first tax that was really introduced in Britain was Inheritance Tax. There was Income Tax before, but Inheritance Tax was seen by the then Liberal government as a fairer way of paying for some of the costs like pensions and healthcare and social welfare.

We have raised the threshold over previous Parliaments for keeping people out of Inheritance Tax.

PAUL LEWIS: But it has been frozen, and it is being frozen for the whole of the next Parliament.

GORDON BROWN: Well, remember, we made it possible for people to transfer their allowances, and so --

PAUL LEWIS: Between husband and wife.

GORDON BROWN: Between husband and wife, and that means widows, for example, can have the full benefit of their husband's previous allowance, and that meant that for a large number of people the effective point at which they started paying Inheritance Tax was above 600,000. So, you know, for most people that situation has changed quite dramatically over the few years by the doubling, effectively, of the allowance that is available to a family, and it's a recognition of marriage in the tax system, if you like, but it means that the allowance is round about -- is certainly over 600,000.

PAUL LEWIS: 650 for a widow.

GORDON BROWN: 650,000, so that's the fairer way we have dealt with it. I think 3 or 4 per cent only of the public pay Inheritance Tax.

PAUL LEWIS: It is a small proportion, but you know perfectly well that when the Shadow Chancellor stood up and said he was going to raise the threshold to a million pounds and then it turned out it would be 2 million for a widow, that was immensely popular. This is the Conservative policy, and it stands in stark contrast to your freezing the Inheritance Tax limit.

GORDON BROWN: Yes, but let's be honest. The policy of the Conservative Party means that the richest 3,000 people in the country get 200,000 each as a benefit from that policy. It's not a fair policy. Obviously you would like to be able to raise the threshold more for Inheritance Tax, but you've got other competing priorities in the country. But I've got to say that the beneficiaries of the Conservative Party policy are the very wealthiest millionaires in the country who are already very rich, and what will happen is that they will get an extra £200,000 each. So you have 3,000 families in the country, or 3,000 estates in the country getting £200,000 each, and it's costing what, £600 million, and I think that money might be better spent on modest and middle income families in this country instead of the very wealthiest.

PAUL LEWIS: Let me move on from money now, because we have had a lot of questions about immigration, and I know you've been talking about this yourself recently.

Audrey Atkinson says:

"You say immigration has gone down but I cannot see it".

She says she is not against immigration, she doesn't dislike people from other countries, but it's the quantity of them.

"What can you tell me that will prevent me and many more disgruntled voters from voting for another party like UKIP?"

GORDON BROWN: Well, I think people have to look at the facts of what we have been trying to do. We are trying to cut the inward migration into this country by giving British people the skills to get the jobs that are available.

Now, if you are a Japanese car company, you are bound to bring some of your executives to Britain. If you are a major American sort of financial institution or engineering company, you are going to bring some of your executives to Britain. So we don't want to cut out that form of immigration because we want our workers to be able to go to other countries as well.

The question is, what are you doing about those other levels of skills?

First of all, we have said that no unskilled worker outside the European Union can come into our country

PAUL LEWIS: Of course you cannot stop them coming in from the European Union, can you?

GORDON BROWN: We will come to that. No unskilled worker outside the European Union can come into our country.

Secondly, we have said that where we are dealing with skilled and semiskilled workers, we will advertise most of these jobs in the Job Centre first, and if we can fill them in the Job Centre we will take them from Britain. Where companies want to transfer their employees in multinational companies, we will let that happen. And gradually, the shortage list -- that's the shortage of skills that every country has, but we've got a shortage list in some skills -- we are bringing that down. So chefs is the next one, social care workers is the next one. So as our economy gets the skills it needs, then the need for people to come from other countries is substantially reduced.

Now, Europe is the other question. There are a million people from Europe working or staying or studying in Britain, but equally, there are a million British people studying in the rest of Europe. That is what the European Union is all about. I am told that probably around 100,000 eastern Europeans went back to their own country last year, and I'm told that of the people who came in in 1998, about three - quarters of them have now gone home. So a lot of people come here temporarily to make some money and then go back home. Overall, net immigration, which is the figure that people use, is coming down.

PAUL LEWIS: It's the one you've had some controversy about, isn't it?

GORDON BROWN: The figure that people use is coming down.

PAUL LEWIS: It's a lot higher than it was when Labour came to power.

GORDON BROWN: Yes, but there's no doubt it's coming down, and it's coming down as a result of action that we have taken to reduce the number of skills that we need to bring from other countries. A lot of people, by the way, coming into Britain are Britons returning to Britain from being abroad.

PAUL LEWIS: Yes. So you are saying that when young people, who may not have many skills, who may have gone through the education system and not really got many skills, go to the Job Centre, look for work, in the future it will be easier for them to get it and they won't see -- as many people say to us: we see those jobs for young people being taken by people from other countries when we need them here.

GORDON BROWN: You see, I understand people's feelings about this, and that is why I have been speaking about it. It's not a debate that we should avoid having. We are proud of people who make a contribution to our country when they come from abroad, but we are equally proud that we have got the skills here, and we want to develop the skills for the jobs that are available.

So if you take science teachers or if you take doctors or nurses, we have enhanced the training of doctors and nurses dramatically over the last few years, and the training of teachers, and whereas previously a lot had to come in from other countries to make up the numbers we needed in the National Health Service, we are now able to train these people themselves. So look at the pattern: no unskilled workers from outside the EU, asylum claims going down -- we are spending half as much on asylum as we did a few years ago and at the same time, foreign nationals who have committed crimes deported from this country wherever we can do so, and then look at the issue about how we are meeting the skills needs of our future by training people up in this country.

I am not complacent about anything because I know that immigration is an issue that's very controversial. I know that people feel very strongly about it, but I think what people want is a sensible control of migration, and that is what we are doing.

PAUL LEWIS: So better for the grandchildren and children of the Saga generation as they see this developing, in your view.

Let me move on to a different subject: disability. We have had an email from Kelvin Hayes, who says:

"A person like me has worked most of their lives, then I suffered disability. I get less than £330 every four weeks", which is about £80 a week. That has to cover everything. He says he has only been able to heat one room every other day throughout the winter.

GORDON BROWN: Well, obviously I don't know --

PAUL LEWIS: You don't know the circumstances.

GORDON BROWN: I'm very sorry about --

PAUL LEWIS: You take the general point.

GORDON BROWN: I'm very sorry about what's happened. Someone has given all their working life to the country and then finds that they have a disability and then finds that their income falls as a result of that. I would have to look at what particular benefits and particular help is available to him, and I would want to look at whether there is help, for example, attendance allowance, what is the actual full position, and I would like to be able to do everything I can to help him, but I need to know the full facts.

What I do know is that disability discrimination in this country is something that we have fought very hard against. Helping disabled people back into work where they've got capacity but not to do the previous job they have done is something that we are trying to do, and I think you will find that the help that we are trying to give, for example the disability work tax credit, is something that is useful as well.

PAUL LEWIS: Mavis Blackburn, still on disability, says:

"I understand Labour want to stop attendance allowance", which you just mentioned, Prime Minister.


PAUL LEWIS: Not true? That has been something that many people have said; it's been in the press.

GORDON BROWN: Completely untrue. Attendance allowance stays, and I have just explained our social care proposals for the next Parliament.

PAUL LEWIS: Sure. That is a good assurance to get from you, Prime Minister.

Now, Council Tax.

"How can you justify", says Martin Huxley, "the doubling of Council Tax during the period of the Labour government? It bears no relation to the ability to pay."

He has an income, he says, of less than £7,000, but his Council Tax is £1,300, and his savings stop him getting Council Tax benefit.

GORDON BROWN: Yes, well, I was going to ask whether he is entitled to Council Tax benefit.

PAUL LEWIS: He says he is not because of his savings.

GORDON BROWN: Well, maybe he should check up on that. This is people who have some savings but are income poor because their actual income is relatively low.

What we have tried to do on Council Tax in recent years is hold it down as much as possible.

PAUL LEWIS: The Conservatives say they will freeze it. Will you do that?

GORDON BROWN: Yes, but they cannot afford to freeze it because they make all these promises based on cutting some budget that they then cannot explain. Look, I would be very wary of people making these kinds of promises. We are trying to keep the Council Tax down by making local authorities act more efficiently and by making sure that the services they give are properly delivered. I think you've got to have a balanced view here. We have the old poll tax, which was incredibly unpopular. Rates were previously very unpopular. We've now got the Council Tax, which is just for ranges of people's house value, and therefore some people who are of low incomes but have a highly valued property may end up paying more in Council Tax than their income should justify. That's why we have the Council Tax rebate system. I'm sorry that he is not getting the benefit from that. We are trying to keep Council Tax down and we are trying to make sure that there's proper efficiency in the way the Council Tax is spent, but I think over the last 12 years you have seen schools improve, you have seen social care services improving, you have seen transport services improving locally, and of course, we -- I'm pleased that we've got the winter allowance, I'm pleased that we've got free television licences for those over 75, and I'm pleased we've managed to move to national concessionary travel for the elderly.

PAUL LEWIS: So you will join with David Cameron in saying you are not going to cut those in the next Parliament?

GORDON BROWN: No, the budget just announced what we are doing --

PAUL LEWIS: But that was for one year, not for another year.

GORDON BROWN: But it's always announced year - to - year the --

PAUL LEWIS: But in the next Parliament you will protect them?

GORDON BROWN: We are determined to do everything we can for the winter allowance and pensioners.

PAUL LEWIS: Pensions themselves, Prime Minister. "You said in Saga Magazine, when you wrote to us, that you were going to radically reform pensions" -- this is J Rawlings writing this. I think you said you had radically reformed it, in fact, "and no pensioner need live on less than £130 a week". "How?", she thinks. "Is there going to be a new flat rate pension for everybody?"

GORDON BROWN: No, it's the pension credit. Look, when we came into power in 1997, you know the group of people who worried me most were widows in their 80s who had a very small or no occupational pension and little savings. So where they had an occupational pension or small savings, they were prevented from getting any help. So we introduced the pension credit which goes on top of the pension. I think about 2 million people receive that pension credit. It's my determination to reduce the poverty that lots of people in their 80s have been subjected to.

So we put in the pension credit, we put in a number of allowances like the winter allowances on top of the pension, and we put in obviously some of the other changes like concessionary travel and free medical tests.

Now, that is the first stage, if you like.

The second stage is the Turner Review, which has been, as you know, a matter of some debate in Saga Magazine and everything else. What we are trying to do with the Turner Review is to make sure all women have a full state pension, make sure that the pension is linked to earnings again in 2012, so we are saying in our manifesto that we will link again the pension to earnings in 2012, and that will mean a rising standard of living for pensioners not dependent on inflation but dependent on earnings.

PAUL LEWIS: And that promise to restore the earnings link in 2012 is something new, isn't it, because you had said you hoped to, now you are saying you will say that.

GORDON BROWN: Well, we have costed it. It's obviously more expensive and it depends on what happens to earnings, but we feel that in this fundamental reshaping of the pension system, which means, for example, that far more women get the full state pension, it's important that we make this change.

PAUL LEWIS: And briefly, there was a report by the National Association of Pension Funds yesterday that was saying: get rid of all this means testing, because as I'm sure you know, nearly 2 million people who could claim that pension credit don't claim it. Get rid of that. Pay a flat rate pension -- I think they said £8,000 -- to everybody.

GORDON BROWN: That's very expensive because it would have to be costed. We would have to be very clear what the actual cost of it is. But really, we do advertise the pension credit and tell people that it's available to them, because --

PAUL LEWIS: But they still don't claim it, nearly 2 million.

GORDON BROWN: Well, 2 million do, and that's 2 million people who are benefitting from something they never had properly in 1997 who now have it. But I would encourage people to claim, and there's any easy to claim system, by the way, and you don't have to claim it every year, you claim it once and then you just bring people up - to - date with the facts and figures about your finances. So once people claim it, it's not a case of having to repeatedly claim it. So we have tried to make it easy for people to claim it.

PAUL LEWIS: Let me move on to another question: ISAs, the tax - free savings, the higher limit for the over 50s. There's been a lot of controversy about it over the last few days.

GORDON BROWN: In the next few weeks, of course, the next few days even, people can pay into their

PAUL LEWIS: £5,100 cash and another £5,100 in

GORDON BROWN: Yes, and we are also going to-- I think there's another issue about ISAs. We want to make it easier for people to switch ISA provider. I think some people find it's very difficult to switch when they are offered a better deal for their ISAs. They want to be in a position to switch, so we will make it easier for people to do so. But this is a cash payment into ISA which has these tax benefits, and I hope people will be encouraged, the over 50s, to take that up. It's something that we've been pioneering over the last 12 years.

PAUL LEWIS: Yes. So the 5,100 limit is announced starting in April.


PAUL LEWIS: And what about the difficulty transferring? We have had complaints about transferring.

GORDON BROWN: Well, I have just mentioned that. The difficulty of transferring is something that we are very aware of, and where people can see that another provider is offering something better, they ought to be in a position to change more easily. So we are going to look and I think you will find an announcement quite soon about how we can help people change.

PAUL LEWIS: I've got to ask you this question, which is an old one but many people have asked it, Richard Pearce, Derek Rogerson and others:

"When you became Chancellor", the question goes, "you took five billion a year from pension savings by changing the way they were taxed and advanced corporation tax, a very complicated move. That has led to the decline in pensions. Was that a prudent thing to do?"

GORDON BROWN: It was the right thing to do. It was about the balance between investment and the rest in our economy. When we made that decision, it is wrong to say that the value of pensions went down. Over the next few years the value of pensions doubled. The problems that happened to the pension industry arose by, if you like, the volatility of the Stock Exchange. Everybody knows that that is what caused the value of a lot of pension funds to fall. It wasn't the result of the decision that we made, which was a necessary decision about encouraging investment in the economy, and in fact the value of pension funds -- I remember reporting in a debate in the House of Commons -- had doubled over the years. What then happened was we had the Stock Exchange problems, we've had the financial recession that is a global one, and we are having to deal with some of the problems that arise from that, but of course the stock market has started to go up again.

PAUL LEWIS: So those are more important then.

GORDON BROWN: I believe so, and I believe all the evidence shows that, and I believe that people are wrong to point to that. And in fact, of course, the growth that we have had in the economy over the last 12 years has been higher than in previous years.

PAUL LEWIS: Let's move on from finance. I have said that before, but let's do it now.

Ageism, one of the big areas that our readers are concerned about. Stuart Bryant and Kay Bourne say:

"One of the last remaining areas of age discrimination is the ability of an employer to make someone leave their job just because they have reached 65. What will you do about that?"

GORDON BROWN: Well, I know that one of the first cases that I took up with when I was a Member of Parliament was someone who was told that they had to leave at 60, and I said "This is completely unacceptable", and I managed to persuade the employer that this was completely wrong. I know that age discrimination is something that we should not tolerate under any circumstances, because people have got a contribution to make, not just to the economy but to their communities.

PAUL LEWIS: But when will you change the rule?

GORDON BROWN: Well, we are looking at the default retirement age and we are looking at how we might consult on changing that. Of course that is a big step forward, and I can say to you that we are having a consultation on the default retirement age.

PAUL LEWIS: And when we see the new Parliament, have you taken steps in your party to make sure that people who have lived and worked in the real world will be in there, not people who are professional politicians. Don Clegg and many others have asked that. And also, should there be a minister just for older people?

GORDON BROWN: Well, that's a very interesting question too, very interesting. There will be a minister for social care.

PAUL LEWIS: That's something slightly different.

GORDON BROWN: But I think it's very important to recognise the priority we attach to the development of social care for the future, and there will be a minister in charge of social care. So we have a Minister for Health at the moment, but a minister in charge of social care.

As far as the composition of the Parliament, you know, I was looking at the list of our candidates the other day, and we've got a lot of people who have come in from business, a lot of people from teaching, a lot of people who are lawyers, a lot of people who have got experience in the business world, a lot of people who have come from voluntary organisations, who have worked for charities, a lot of people who have worked locally as councillors and as community workers. So all these things I think will be reflected in the membership of our party once the election is completed.

PAUL LEWIS: Christine Woodford says: "Do you approve of assisted suicide?"

GORDON BROWN: No, I don't.

PAUL LEWIS: And you won't allow it?

GORDON BROWN: This is very controversial, because, you know, the automatic reaction of someone who sees a relative suffering, who sees someone really in great need, is to help them and to say: what can we do to ease that suffering? And I can understand why the majority of people, when first asked the question, will say: well, of course, when there is such suffering people should have the right to assisted suicide.

But I have to say to you -- this is a very difficult question and I want to be able to answer it fully. I have to say to you, when you look at what a bureaucratic system of assisted suicide might involve, having to sign papers and having to get doctors to approve it and then having to get it administered, I think people ought to think about (1) the more that we are doing to help ease pain and this hospice movement, the more we are doing to help people have the care and attention and support in the last days of their lives, and I don't want us to be a society in a position where an older person feels under pressure from their relatives to go for assisted suicide because they think they are easing the burden on people. I think the medical profession have found ways of helping people in these circumstances, and while it may be the automatic first reaction, let's relieve the pain, I think we can relieve the pain and suffering, and I think medically we are in a far better position to do it than ever before.

PAUL LEWIS: Prime Minister, you hope to be re - elected, but retirement will come to you as it will come to all of us. What do you hope to do in your retirement, whenever that is?

GORDON BROWN: I have always said I want to do some voluntary and charitable work. Sarah and I worked in a hospice during last summer in my constituency, because we thought that we wanted to see what it was like to be able to help people in the most difficult times of their lives, and while we had worked with other charities before we had not seen that, and I was so encouraged by the voluntary help that so many older people were giving, many who had seen their own relatives die as a result of illnesses and then being cared for in a hospice, and I was very impressed by just the kindness and generosity of people in these hospices.

I do think that the hospice movement needs help, but I want to help in other forms of voluntary work.

PAUL LEWIS: Gordon Brown, thank you very much. That is all we have time for.

This broadcast is being recorded on April 1st, before of course we actually know the date of the election, but we expect it to be May 6th.

Gordon Brown, I should say, is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, and there will be others. On our website you can see details of the webcast when we put questions to David Cameron for the Conservatives, and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats.

My thanks to all the Saga readers who have sent in questions, to those who have helped prepare all this, and of course my thanks to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Thank you.

GORDON BROWN: Thank you. Thank you very much.

[End of webcast]

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