5 May's BBC Question Time, factchecked

6 May 2016

On the Question Time panel last night were Lord Lawson, Lisa Nandy, Michael O'Leary, Benjamin Zephaniah and Isabel Oakeshott.

We've checked their claims on frontline services, the European Union, laws about discrimination, and education. 

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Frontline services

“[David Cameron] said he would not cut frontline services, that's exactly what he's done. All those election promises, they're all not worth the paper they're written on.”—Audience member

It’s not difficult to find public services that have been cut, and it comes down to what you see as ‘frontline’ services, for which there’s no fixed definition.

David Cameron said in an often-cited 2010 interview:

“any cabinet minister if I win the election, if we win the election, who comes to me and says, "Here are my plans" and they involve frontline reductions, they'll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again. After thirteen years of Labour, there is a lot of wasteful spending, a lot of money that doesn't reach the frontline.”

He didn’t end up winning the election outright, but the resulting Coalition government made cuts to public spending overall, including large reductions to local government. The NHS and schools budgets were among the few areas protected, although the NHS has been and is being asked to make efficiency savings.

The police budget is one high-profile area that’s seen reductions, for instance, and the number of police officers has fallen. At the same time, the government has been arguing that it’s shifted more resources to frontline policing.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has a good guide to what’s been cut and what’s been protected.

The economic impact of a vote to leave the EU

“If the economic impact of brexit is so difficult to predict, should we base our referendum vote on moral principles?”—Audience member

This is a fair question. As the House of Commons Library puts it:

“There is no definitive study of the economic impact of the UK’s EU membership or the costs and benefits of withdrawal. Many of the costs and benefits are subjective or intangible and a host of assumptions must be made to reach an estimate.”

That said, most economists seem to think that leaving the EU would come at some economic cost.

A lot of our coverage is on more quantifiable topics like money and immigration, but we’ve also asked experts to look at the UK’s influence in the EU and criticisms of EU democracy. If there are other things you want looked at, go to fullfact.org/ask.

Norway and the EU

“Norway pays something like the same or slightly more per head of population to the European Union despite not being a member, and it has to obey something like 95% of the regulations coming out of Brussels”—Michael O’Leary

Neither claim is correct.

Our contribution to the EU budget as a fully paid-up member is expected to be around £220 per person over the next six years.

Norway is expected to put in roughly £130 per person over the same period, although not into the central EU budget: this is mostly direct grants to poorer European countries, and fees for specific EU initiatives that it wants to take part in.

The House of Commons Library has published similar figures just for 2014.

Both countries then get money back in EU grants and spending, but it’s hard to work out how the lower ‘net’ figures compare. “It is not possible to compare net payments between those of an EU Member State and those of a Non-Member state”, according to the Norwegian diplomatic service.

Nor is it correct that Norway obeys 95% of EU regulations. A few years ago, at least, it was 17.5% of EU regulations and 70% of EU directives, according to a 2010 report for the Norwegian government.

But it also concluded that Norway is roughly three quarters integrated into the EU compared to a typical EU member country, while acknowledging the difficulties in measuring this.

Leaving the numbers aside, the overall point the report makes is that the EU has a great deal of influence over what Norway does. We’ve covered this in more detail.

Laws about discrimination

“From what I understand, if it wasn’t for the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, and lots of other European courts, a lot of black people wouldn’t have got their rights in this country”—Benjamin Zephaniah

The European Union can’t get the credit (or, depending on your point of view, the blame) for human rights laws in this country.

There is an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. But it only became legally binding in December 2009, and didn’t have much impact in the courts until very recently.

The separate, non-EU European Court of Human Rights has been more significant in shaping human rights law in the past few decades. We’d still be signed up to that court if we left the EU.

And laws passed by our own parliament have tried to tackle race discrimination. The first Race Relations Act, aimed at stopping discrimination in public places, was passed in 1965. It wasn’t particularly effective, but succeeding laws built on it.

The 2010 Equality Act now says that people can’t be discriminated against when it comes to things like jobs, education or being provided with a service because of their colour, nationality or “ethnic or national origins”. The earlier Human Rights Act also mentions discrimination. These laws don’t depend on being in the EU.

Educational league tables

“We are currently languishing below Vietnam and Poland in the international educational league tables.”—Isabel Oakeshott

Vietnam and Poland both outperformed the UK in a recent league table published by the OECD, showing the average performance of 15 year olds in maths and science tests. It found East Asian countries performed the strongest across the 76 countries in the comparison, with the UK coming just in the top 20.

It’s based on a combination of international student surveys, mainly the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The report alone can’t explain why pupils in East Asian countries perform better than the UK according to this measure.

We’ve covered what league tables like these can and can’t tell us about educational standards in the UK compared to other countries (that article doesn’t not seek to address the methodological debates about PISA itself).

Round up posts like this—and those we publish for PMQs and major speeches by politicians—don't go into as much depth as our usual articles or cover every claim made in the show. Often they are done under a much shorter deadline, so we prioritise a clear conclusion above all else. As always we welcome feedback: please email the team on feedback@fullfact.org.


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