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Thursday, 30 November, 2000, 16:53 GMT
November 30, Birmingham
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The topics discussed this week were:

Michael Portillo ruled out as William Hague's successor?

Audience question: Following the report that Michael Portillo has ruled himself out as successor to William Hague does the panel believe him? You said:

The fact that Portillio's intentions are newsworthy, show him to be the next leader of the Conservative party in waiting. However, contrast this with the liberals, can one think of anyone who is capable of the job apart from its current incumbent...Tony Blair that is.
Keith Francis, Desborough

Michael Portillo redesigned himself for parliamentary office and he will redesign himself again should the need arise. His antics in Hague's 19th century party are of no relevance in governmental terms since they will never form a government. William Hague is yesterday's boy leading yesterday's men in yesterday's party.
Alan Marsden, Penrith

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Unique tragedy or symptom of sick Britain?

Audience question: Do you think that the murder of Damilola Taylor was a unique tragedy or yet another symptom of sick Britain? You said:

If people are not to "walk on by" when acts of violence are being committed on our street, then they need realistic advice and guidance as to what to do/not do to make sure situations are not made worse.
Chris Hannah, Luton

I agree with David from Birmingham. Sandra Gidley's reference to the shockwaves that this murder will have sent through parents was ill judged. I know full well that I would have been just as horrified by the killing before I became a mum or if I hadn't become one. To be human is the sole criterion for empathy.
Anna Thompson, Bedford

Murder is the most violent form of human behaviour. The abolition of capital punishment in the mid-sixties resulted in a gradual but inexorable change in the nation's perception of this crime, following the lessening of the punishment. It now takes a particularly horrific murder, such as the Russell case, to arouse the kind of horror which I can recall in my younger days.
Retired schoolmaster, Guildford

Sandra Gidley made a comment that is often trotted out in the wake of terrible incidences such as the recent murder of Damilola Taylor. She said that "every mother (and father) in the land would be shocked..." This is really offensive to those of us who do not have children ourselves - as if we cannot be as horrified or outraged because we do not happen to have children.
David Martin, Birmingham

There could be no more fitting memorial to the death of this sad little boy than a resolution to clean up our act - to do something to censure the viciousness that characterises so much popular entertainment. We could ask Sir Maurice Micklewhite to lead the campaign. Back filming again in the south London borough where he grew up, what better model than Michael Caine to inspire the children of Peckham to reach towards a better, brighter future?
Patricia Graham, Tonbridge, Kent

I am currently living in Belgium which doesn't have the sort of serious social problems Britain has with its council estates, etc. I think the example is to tackle social division: give people better wages and employment rights, install a poverty net to catch those in need, cut down on employment and social hierarchies to make people feel better valued, abolish private schools, improve education, give people more beauty in life by starting with providing better housing conditions and raise taxes to help bring about the improvements.
Anna Wood, Belgium

My daughter has been subjected to bullying and although this has been brought to the school's attention and I have even been in touch with the welfare officer, no response has been forthcoming. I think bullying is rife, even in terms of the whispered comments or looks given to those on the receiving end and until schools face up to that and don't try to sweep it under the carpet, it will continue unabated.
Ingrid Stevens, Herts

Since it is evident that the police are unable to adequately protect citizens, in order to stem the increase in violence, citizens must be allowed to possess firearms in their homes to protect and defend themselves, their family and their property against criminals.
Ted Wiltsie

I believe that if youth leaders and possibly teachers in places like Peckham were paid the salaries received by barristers, and barristers were paid the salaries currently received by youth leaders, there would be a dramatic reduction in the work of the courts within 10 years and we would all live in a safe and civilised society. I am not a youth leader, or a teacher!
Richard Crane, Birmingham

I have two sons, aged nine and six and both have been extremely upset by the brutal murder of Damilola. What kind of society are we living in when people just walk by a boy bleeding to death? It is completely and utterly disgraceful.
Shivinder, Hounslow

No one on the panel seemed to address the underlying causes of these acts of thuggery which is lack of parental control and effective discipline in schools. Mr Straw should be invited to spend six months on the North Peckham estate and you can be sure new government education and social policies for the inner cities would be introduced very quickly.
Paul Allan-Smith, Vauxhall, London

With regards to the police in areas such as Peckham - the police constantly fail to use a competent resource open to them effectively, that being the MSC - Metropolitan Special Constabulary. At the age of 27 and with 8 1/2 years' experience in this field I find it most disgusting that we are not used effectively.
Rod Hutton, London

Headteachers have been instructed to reduce exclusions. Many school incidents of bullying and carrying of weapons are not reported. The murder of a 10-year-old boy in Peckham was horrific but I am surprised it does not happen more often.
Norma Fraser, Glasgow

Ann Widdecombe said that it was a cheap political point to blame the Tories for poverty and crime. Unfortunately Margaret Thatcher changed the social climate by encouraging people to think only of themselves. It is now very difficult to reverse this social change.
Sally Webster, Ashburton

Where is it all going to end? Our children are now killing each other. When is the government going to take relevant action to deter this sort of behaviour? Our hearts go out to the family. Great Britain, eh?
Worried mother, Scotland

It is good to know that Britain is taking this very seriously. There is not much a government can do to control irate and undisciplined children. All the government can do is provide security for the law-abiding citizens and punish the criminals severely. In America, children die every day and nobody really cares.
Kenny, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

It isn't about money. All the panel can say is throw more money at the problem areas like Peckham. It is about respect for authority and about being able to control the children in schools with proper discipline. More money given to teachers would not stop the rot of teachers leaving the profession, they cannot exercise discipline nowadays and therefore the children grow up never having to obey the word NO!
Clem Upton, Birmingham

With the obvious degradation of our society how do you persuade any concerned citizen to want to join the police force?
John Webb, Maidenhead

I have got four boys and one of them was assaulted on a school bus on his way home from school. The other boy was formally cautioned and now they are trying to force me to send my son back to the same school where the boy goes. My son is very distressed about this and I think he has been let down by the school and the local authorities.
Michelle Gull, Kent

Will Self stated "The authority figures are the police and the teachers". In schools and on the street the authority figures are the bullies. When will the government deal with that?
Guy Moseley, Sheffield

Throughout the debate on violent Britain the panel and audience used the popular 'blame culture', placing the responsibility on government, the police, teachers and business. No one had the courage to state the obvious, that responsibility lies with the parents to bring up their children to respect themselves and each other.
Antony Stack, Pinner

I have been moved tonight to speak of how upset I feel at the death of this innocent boy, the politicians on the panel tonight dragged this down to the level of party political point scoring. I hope every politician can read this comment and have some appreciation of the feelings of the average "punter" they are elected to represent.
G G Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne

The main aspect that was missed by all of the panellists was parental control. Why are young people running around the streets with kitchen knives? There must be some input from parents on what are purported to be young teenagers, the responsibility cannot be simply pushed on to other authorities.
John Levison-Wiggins, Arundel

Little was made of the responsibilities of the general public. The police cannot bear the entire responsibility for the prevention or detection of crime. They rely heavily on collecting evidence from the general public and the public can, therefore, be a significant 'force-multiplier' for them. What is needed is more co-operation and less suspicion. The public should at least meet them half way.
Roger Taylor, Portsmouth

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Absolute right for individuals to do as they wish?

Audience question: This week we've had legal euthanasia in Holland, we've had the lowering of the age of consent for sex for gay men. Should individuals have an absolute right to do as they wish providing that others aren't disadvantaged by it? You said:

As a gay man I was bullied throughout my secondary education. As society treated me as a lesser person than my classmates, I reasoned that they were right to inflict physical and mental pain upon me. Thank goodness that from today young men will not have to wrestle with that dilemma. There finally is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Howard Gore, Preston

It is not morally right for individuals to have absolute freedom - absolutism is irrational. Burke said that man is nasty, brutish and sharp. Absolutism always impinges on somebody's liberty/freedom, as it is self-seeking gratification and adds to moral decay. Instead of constantly trying to appropriate one's own will, where has the vocation of service to others before gratifying oneself gone to?
Anita Pennell, Darlington

If society is crediting 16-year-olds with the intelligence to make choices about their sexuality, which it is, then surely those choices should be available to both heterosexual and homosexual 16-year-olds.
Martin, London

I'm glad to see that Paul is happy to respect my wishes to commit a sexual act with another man if I wanted to, but that he has no respect for me just because I'm dying. Why should I not have the right to die quickly rather than look forward to several years as a partial vegetable?
Alisdair Sutherland, Northampton

If euthanasia were legalised, it would apply to all age groups. The parents of children with terminal illness would be given the choice of terminating their child's life. This is a very serious issue and one, I believe which, if made legal would erode the respect we have for human life. Life is precious, and there are times when we suffer, sadly, physical and/or emotional pain, but the answer cannot be to terminate.
Liz Howe, Gerrards Cross

When various members of the panel talk about the confusion of 16-year-olds about their sexuality, could they spare a thought for the confusion of gay 16-year-olds who are left feeling thoroughly confused by the overwhelming movement for them not to accept their true sexuality. In my own case, this led to many years of confusion and damage with regards to my behaviour with the opposite sex, which I will probably bear with me forever.
Anna Wood, Brussels

People are only free within laws which means making hard decisions, so it's up to governments to do it right or not at all.
Daniel, Liverpool

The single most important reason why the age of consent should not be the same for homosexuals as heterosexuals is a purely biological one - the sexes are not equal in terms of sexual maturity. Young boys go through puberty approximately two years later than do girls, so they are not as sexually mature at 16 as are girls, thus making them much more vulnerable to being exploited by older, manipulative adults.
Jenny Birchett, Buxton

What people seem to forget is that many people in the UK are making a lot of money out of the sale of cannabis. They will not just go out and get normal jobs after legalisation, they will move onto harder drugs. Will we be having this debate about cocaine in 10 years time?
Callum McFarlane, Waltham Abbey

What one always tends to forget talking about lowering the age of consent is that 16-year-olds in Britain today are FORCED to be heterosexual. In other words, the argument that 'allowing' young people to have a relationship with someone from their own sex will 'turn' everyone into homosexuals is a complete nonsense.
Griet Vos, Brussels

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Legalised cannabis only a matter of time?

Audience question: Figures suggest that more and more people experiment with soft drugs. Only is it a matter of time before cannabis is legalised in Britain? You said:

Ann Widdecombe says that if marijuana were decriminalized, the drug barons would turn their attention to the harder drugs. The corrolary to this is that if all drugs were decriminalised the drug barons would abandon the field as soon as it became unprofitable as would the farmers and the dealers and the need for addicts to commit crime to feed their habit..
Mr LA Taylor, Epsom

Isn't everyone tired of hearing politicians debate the legalisation of cannabis when it is absolutely clear that they cannot do anything to prevent it getting into the hands of our children. The argument is invalid, as is usual with MPs when they don't have the faintest idea what they are talking about or are scared to face the facts. It would make not one iota of difference to availability if it were legalised therefore all arguments about what it leads to are invalid.
John White

I only caught the end of the programme and Will Self did seem to be coming under attack for things he denied saying. However, the one thing I did hear him say was that he believes a large percentage of addicts need medical help - addiction being seen by many as a medically treatable condition. I think doctors have made a mistake taking this on in the past 10-20 years or so. Modern medicine has no answer to alcohol addiction and, in time, it will become clear that it has no answer to other drug addiction.
Stuart Hutchison, Tewkesbury

I was astounded to hear Paul Boateng claim that cannabis was "known to be a dependant drug". To the best of my knowledge there has as yet not been one single serious scientific paper to make such a claim. To the contrary, every independent investigation I am aware of has come to the conclusion that it is NOT a dependant drug. It is exactly this sort of serious misunderstanding of the true issues of drug abuse that so discredit all the political parties.
Mark Preston, Whitworth

In 1995 after a series of personal crises, serious criminal attack and financial/personal bereavement I turned to alcohol. Last June I weighed six stone, my life had fallen apart and I almost died. Although now recovering I have permanent severe disabilities and am classed 80% disabled and I have psychological problems. I wish someone had offered me cannabis.
Kim, County Durham

Sandra Gidley commented that, as a pharmacist, she had come into contact with many people whose lives had been ruined by both alcohol and illicit drugs. As an ex-licencee of public houses I must point out that a large majority of regular drinkers do in fact have a dependency problem but totally deny it. If so called soft drugs were decriminalised or legalised, how could society be sure that their purchase and use could be controlled in any way?
Barry Stephenson, Sheffield

To say that cannabis is highly addictive and toxic is a rather easy way of deflecting away from the more pertinent issue at hand, of the depravation within society and the deeper causes for this and indeed the solution to this problem. It is very convenient for a government to blame it on the drug rather than to admit that essentially there is a far wider problem that they are failing to deal with and is far more costly.
Heather Moore, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire

Catching real criminals is what the law is supposed to do, and the trade in illegal drugs is just one more area in which organised crime can carve a profitable niche. When a commodity that people desire is criminalised it immediately creates a lucrative black market that can be exploited at the highest levels by the sorts of criminals Ann Widdecombe is talking about.

Isn't it amazing how politicians who want us to vote for them do not seem to have any interest in letting the public do what they want to do? Do they really think that people's dope smoking habits will change according to the law? Will a gay couple decide not to have sex because it's illegal? We don't elect governments so that they can order us how and where to smoke, drink, have sex and ultimately die.
Jonathan Davies, Exeter

Although I would agree with the notion that alcohol is the cause of far more trouble than cannabis, I would not like to see cannabis legalised because in the nine years since I first used it the price of it has remained the same (and the quality increased!), unlike everything else in this country which is legal and taxed, where the price has risen and the quality dramatically decreased.
George K, Harrow

Why is it that the only member on tonight's panel who has a deep and intelligent understanding and ability to focus upon the reality of issues such as 'dependence illness' - I obviously refer to Will Self - does not get taken seriously by the slogan-toting members of parliament who are as seemingly removed from modern Britain as Self is in touch with it?

I agree with Will Self that drug users are responsible for considerable crime to finance their habit. I think the legalization of drugs is the only way to take the criminal element out of the business. Pushers are only there for the profit motive and without profit it might remove them from school gates and other public places where young people congregate.
Derek Knights, Ashford, Middlesex

I wanted to pick up on Paul Boetang's comments on cannabis legalisation not being allowed because of proof that its addictive, so is alcohol and cigarettes - is it a question that the government are earning too much from tax to ban the latter?
Sharon Bailey, London

Ann Widdecombe's arguments on soft drugs are incredibly naive: It probably is true that users of hard drugs have used cannabis as well but I'm sure you won't find one who hasn't drunk alcohol too. But there are millions who drink alcohol or smoke cannabis without going on to use hard drugs. The difference is not in the danger of the substance (cannabis is by no means more toxic or more addictive than alcohol) but in the way society deals with it.
Ulrike Bulle, London

Ann Widdecombe is talking absolute rubbish when she says cannabis is a gateway drug. If that is so then most of the country should be on cocaine at the moment. The fact is that if more people smoked cannabis and fewer people drank alcohol, we would live in a lot less violent society. Just look at the policy of the Dutch police in Euro 2000, as when England played in Holland there was virtually no violence.
Jonathan Fletcher Rogers, Chester

Well done Will. Addictive illness and other social evils such as drug related crime need to be addressed as well as taking drugs off the street and winning the war on drugs. Alcoholism is an illness which can be arrested through appropriate treatments.
Terry Morgan, Knutsford

I live in an area where there are a lot of drug/drink related crimes. These are committed by young boys, some as young as ten. These same boys hang around outside the local shops shoplifting and harassing the people who work in these places. Is it any wonder that this country is in the state it's in? It is all drug/drink related, obviously these people who advocate legalising drugs have never been on the receiving end of these thugs.
P Gibbins, Southsea

Will Self spoke very good sense when he said that the real danger for use of drugs or alcohol is whether you have an addictive personality or not. Some people can experiment and get away with it, others will go on to have problems and use stronger drugs/larger quantities of alcohol.
Patricia Sunley, Henley-on-Thames

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Keeping macho hooligans from travelling in Europe

Audience question: Following Euro 2000 the prime minister promised to take action to stop inveterate macho hooligans from travelling in Europe. Should he apply the same rules to his own cabinet? You said:

We need more Prescotts. His mind is not cluttered with degrees and fantasies and he can focus on the realities. Also he says what he believes.
Ryan, Birmingham

The panel's reaction to John Prescott concerns me. This is a very serious issue and I think John did do Britain proud as we appear to be leading the way forward for a more environmentally sound planet and America came out of the talks sounding like a baby who is about to have its pacifier removed. For a country that prides itself on being the "world's" super-power it wants remarkably little to do with world issues!
Sarah Trew, Tiverton

In response to John Prescott's outburst in The Hague, isn't it the case that neither Mr Boateng nor Ms Widdecombe were there? We can all have an opinion - mine is that in response to an obtuse, thoughtless comment from the French minister, Mr Prescott lost his temper.
Alex, Bath

Surely John Prescott has very limited credibility on environment issues! He is a man who runs numerous Jaguars....let's have more honesty and less lectures from hypocrites please.
Nick Blanch, Stroud

As the foremost experts become more certain that the world's climate is changing due to man's habits the attention of the press and therefore the population is focused on a silly comment by Prescott and the cry of sexism from a politician with no other valid rebuke. Put this in your diary as the day the world died.
Paul Anthony, London

John Prescott's outburst, however indiscreet, showed an enormous concern for the environment. The panel should have refused to get involved with analysing his behaviour, and addressed the question of how the world is to be protected from the potentially disastrous effects of pollution by green house gases.
Martin Elliott, Manchester

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General comments on the programme:

I realise that a mixed panel is an essential basis for a good spectrum of views, and that occasionally a 'character' will be included to add a bit of 'bite', but I suggest that Ann Widdecombe is not invited so frequently. Her behaviour on last night's edition came close to televisual thuggery, and her lack of both self-discipline and courtesy were embarrassing.
Sandy Reid, Woking

As a Conservative voter I agree strongly with most things that Ann Widdecome said, however her veiws on cannabis are outdated.
O Braham, Leeds

I would like to thank the producers of Question Time for providing this forum for viewers to express their opinion. I would also like to thank the non-party members of the panel and all the members of the audience who participated, for their insight and intelligent debate.
Nick Hill, London

Do the researchers for QT invite guests to sit on the panel without any consultation? If not, then the political bias of the BBC was last night laid bare with three of the five guests having a left of centre viewpoint, one fifth of the panel was 'apolitical' and one of the panel was right of centre.
Steve Fuller, London

As a member of the audience on last night's debate I was appalled at the way the MPs on the panel acted. This is not a policy battle but a rare opportunity for concerned members of the public to raise issues which are close to their hearts. The fact that certain members of the panel neglected this illustrates to me a high level of ignorance and disrespect.
Greg Kilroy, Birmingham

Regarding the Kyoto protocol and the fact that Question Time can only manage a discussion on whether Prescott behaved correctly towards the French minister is an example of our, and your programme's, preference for trivia. Yet it is one of very few places where the public has the possibility of interacting with, admittedly minuscule, power and opinion formers. It is relatively futile to discuss the other matters raised in the programme if we are incapable of tackling global warming seriously.

I was most impressed tonight by the genuinely moving reply that Digby Jones gave in reply to the question about the tragic murder, raised by a member of the audience. He spoke passionately and elegantly, and it was touching to hear such compassionate words from a member of the business community. I commend his honesty, strength of feeling, and vision.
Andrew D Mumby, London

Would David Dimbleby please address the audience as that gentleman there or that lady instead of that woman or that man! It sounds so much nicer.
Jean Lee, Huddersfield

How curious it is that the only comments of any insight or social relevance on the programme this evening came from the only non-politician on the panel. Curious indeed!
Ian Pending, Exeter

Will Self is a breath of fresh air. We must see and hear more of him.
William Ng, London

Ann Widdecombe's constant interruptions of other panel members are very wearing. I suggest you either get a chairman who can control her (Mr Paxman?) or stop inviting her to appear.
Ian Bull, London

I would like to thank Will Self for his intelligent considered polite contribution, and castigate Ann Widdecombe for her bullying, rude, dogmatic performance which was painful to watch and listen to.
Lee Kay, Tilstock, Shropshire

I thought Sandra Gidley's rude and frankly childish put downs to Ann Widdecombe were offensive. She certainly does not demonstrate good manners, which you can still have even in the most heated of political debate. She might learn this after she's spent longer in the House of Commons.
Philip Webb, Manchester

Mr Dimbleby needs to have more control over the panel. I was shocked to see the lack of respect that some panel members showed ie Ann Widdecombe and Paul Boateng.
Rod Hutton, London

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