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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 18:09 GMT
January 25, Southampton
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The topics discussed this week were:

A weaker or stronger government following Peter Mandelson's resignation?

Audience question: Will the government be weaker or stronger following the resignation of Peter Mandelson? You said:

The Tories now have no one left to villify and shall find the government stronger in the long run as Tony Blair is now more isolated. This gives other members of the cabinet ie Gordon Brown more power round the table now that the sinister shadow of Peter Mandelson no longer looms.
S Boland, Paisley

So Mandelson has done wrong. He may not be the only one in the government, but whatever they have done was pretty mild. In no way are they accused of gaining money from this passport affair. Yet the press, especially the tabloids, had a field day. The hatred I saw in the Sun, the Mirror, the Mail, the Express was unbelievable. I wonder if Hitler ever received such accusations, such hatred, such bile. Mandelson did not deserve it.
Pascal Jacquemain, Croydon

I just don't understand the hypocrisy of people, especially the press, over the Mandelson affair. Like none of us ever told a lie before? If any of us had been sacked or required to resign over one little lie, I'm sure we would all be running of to Employment Tribunal. Yet when it comes to politicians we simply show them no mercy.
B Mc Eldowney, Bromsgrove

It is right that Blair's already poor credibility is brought into the spotlight over the Mandelson issue. He brought him back after 10 months. Labour sleaze is as rife as the last government after only four years and this is an issue not to be glossed over. Look at the witch-hunts when they were in opposition. The government must show it can do something other than blaming others. Maybe it is time for Brown to take over.
Graham Stewart, Fleet

It is very telling how eager the Tories are to tell everybody that Mandelson should have nothing to do with Labour's election campaign. That can't be any of their business and it sounds like they are scared that he will be involved. After William Hague's performance yesterday I don't think it matters who runs Labour's campaign. Nobody could want somebody with so little style, class and finesse representing this country. It was toe-curling!
John Melchior, Barnet

Peter Mandelson would appear to have entered politics for what he could get out of it, in the way of status and influence, rather than for what he could put in.
Dr Donald Kerr, Bowness on Windermere

Mr Darling's dignified responses to the increasingly hysterical hyperbole perpetrated by Mr Rice and Ms Browning regarding Peter Mandelson's resignation illustrated eloquently the huge gulf in credibility between the parties in Britain today. Wayne Hemingway was absolutely spot on to suggest that this should be put into perspective. Half the show was dedicated to a fairly minor issue - there are far more important issues for the panel to discuss.
Graham Lauder, Falkirk

It seems the Tory speaker and press are rather soar the whole Mandelson issue has actually not hurt the government. It seems to me that the problem the Tories are facing is that they are not able to come up with one sensible policy. They are the masters of spin and scaremongery intended to damage the government, to get them into office.
John, London

Politicians are people and so are fallible, it worries me that the press portrays more of their private life and personal failings (on both sides of the house) than the successes they achieve for the voting public. Let's concentrate more on the issues that affect us all and that led to Labour defeating the Conservatives so comprehensively and stop wasting time gossiping about such trivia which has been dealt with.
Paula Maxwell, London

The government must be the only organisation in Europe where the buck doesn't stop at the top. If this affair had occurred within a larger corporate company the chairman would have been forced to resign. At the end of the day Blair recruited him and should therefore accept the responsibility of Mandleson's actions - it's not as if he didn't have fair warning. As to the fact that he was an excellent minister, it certainly appears from the evidence presented that he will go down in history as one of if not the worst.
Adam Kent, Solihull

Why is it that politicians 'make mistakes' or suffer from 'errors of judgement' and we lesser mortals simply 'tell lies'?
Marjorie Hogg, Healing, NE Lincolnshire

Peter Mandelson lied, he didn't mislead or confuse he lied. That is not boring it is serious. Equally all his fellow ministers have lied when explaining his departure by using various euphemisms of he lied.
Brian Singleton, Baslow, Derbyshire

What Mandelson did was wrong, and no one can deny that the Labour party did the right thing in asking for his resignation. I think that people should remember that the party has only had problems with a single man - the Conservatives of the 90s had Hamilton and Mellor, to name but a few.
Matthew Downes, Cardiff

Is not Alistair Darling being negligent not to pick up Tim Rice's comment that Peter Mandelson should have learnt from his previous mistake and not done whatever his latest mistake is supposed to be. Surely it is when Mandelson was previously in government that this matter happened NOT in his latest post.
Harold Heslop, Crook, Co Durham

I must agree that he should go. I now feel that a line should be drawn under this issue and that the press should now start to reflect political views and not subject us to a roller coaster of sleaze and righteous indignation from people who have little to be righteous about. I feel this only distracts from the election process and hides the fact that the opposition does not have a strategy which would see them in a position to govern.
Tom Wall, Undy

Although Peter Mandelson may personally be facing a political dead end, his exit leaves Tony Blair in a previously unexposed position. By losing his blade-running chief advisor there is now a definite power vacuum at the heart of government. Tony Blair has never been universally popular in his party and Gordon Brown may then be ideally suited to take over at No 10 Downing Street.
Arthur D MacMillan, Reading

Peter Mandelson has been like a cancer at the heart of Tony Blair's government ever since it was elected. His constant attempts to create policy and undermine his colleagues by briefing the press will not be missed. Nor will his contempt for the real values of the Labour Party.
Sasha Clarkson, Pembrokeshire

Surely if 'impropriety' has not occurred as Peter Mandelson has strongly stated, then there would be no cause for a resignation to take place. If his words 'are true' then it seems very short-sighted of the government to force a change in the Northern Ireland secretary just as it enters critical stages. Continuity in the peace process must count for something!
Gideon Abrams, London

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Right to be concerned about safety of MMR or putting children at risk by rejecting it?

Audience question: Are new parents right to be concerned about the safety of the combined MMR vaccine or are they putting their children at more risk by rejecting it? You said:

I feel strongly that the government should be seen to vigorously support the giving of the MMR vaccine to all children. The quality of Dr Wakefield's research paper, 'Through The Glass Darkly', should be clearly and bluntly explained at every opportunity. An enormous amount of hard work has gone in to making this country as free from disease as it now is and it is frankly scandalous that it should be undermined with such vaporous evidence.
Lesley Mackenzie, Stirling

In this day and age everything is about money and or votes. I think that all politicians lie for gain. Parents like myself want real assurances about the MMR - we are still worried. I have vaccinated my two babies, but only because there was no choice. Take it or leave it - no parent likes gambles with their kids' lives.
Duncan Yates, Glasgow

The whole MMR vaccine problem is yet again caused by the same thing which blights this country, the sensationalist media and the moronic sheep that read them. There is NO proof that MMR vaccines cause autism or any other disease yet the diseases the MMR combats account for lots of deaths and even more long term illnesses. The same is true of the BSE case that you just mentioned, there is zero, that's ZERO proof that BSE is transmittable to humans.
Ben Morgan, Bournemouth

If there were no economic considerations in the argument for MMR, why then are the government so insistent on withdrawing choice for parents? Obviously there is a cost factor in separating the vaccine, administering it two/three times etc. Ms Browning is wrong in her statement that people should not equate autism with MMR since autism was first recognised in the 1940s. Cancer has been identified for a long period of time - long before the correlation of smoking as being a contributory cause!
Dee Hilliard, Dorset

There is a wide range of research into the effects of MMR but the validity of the research which linked the vaccine with autism is technically flawed and the sample size and methodology makes the findings impossible for them to be generalised across the population. This research was hyped by the level of sensational media cover. The vaccine is safe as it is possible to make it. There are much higher risks to our children from not being vaccinated.
Tom Wall, Undy

As a health care professional, it is distressing to hear Angela Browning MP, a person in a position of responsibility, to grossly misquote the medical literature on the MMR vaccine. The overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the vaccine is safe. Furthermore, the potential disastrous consequences of poor uptake of the vaccine are unthinkable.
Gareth Bashir, A&E doctor, London

I believe that the MMR is given at a crucial time for development in children and that research should be obtained before continuing with this innoculation. I have a daughter who was normal before her MMR jab at 13 months. By 15 months she was ignoring us and had no communication skills and at 18 months was suspected as being autistic. By 2 and a half she was formally diagnosed.
Michelle Mould, Norwich

Autism is a condition which no one knows the cause of. If that is so then how is it possible to say that MMR is not the cause? Thousands of parents like myself can testify to having a normally developing child until the MMR jab and then within a matter of days there is a noticeable change in the child. Will someone ever listen to the parents?
Paul Kent, Leeds

If this government is so concerned about the innoculation programme, why has it not reintroduced the BCG (tuberculosis) vaccination as a mass programme at a time when statistics show an increase in the incidence of this disease?
Karen Grigg, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex

I have a son who was damaged by the MMR vaccine and whilst I agree that vaccines are wonderful, I have researched the MMR vaccine long enough to confirm that it is well known among the medical profession that there is a problem with it. The government would be well advised on spending 3m on helping the children already damaged and more importantly putting the money towards a screening device to stop other parents going through the hell that I and other hundreds of parents have been through.
T Holcombe, Cardiff

Alistair Darling comments about spending 3m on advertising the MMR to encourage parents to have the jab for their children are obscene. 3m would be better spent on research into consequences of the MMR, or better put into the social security vaccination damage fund where if your child is damaged by a vaccination you can claim a one off payment of 30,000.
Kath Watson, Newport, S Wales

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Is the acceptance of record number of asylum seekers justified?

Audience question: We live on an overcrowded island. How can we justify the acceptance of a record number of asylum seekers? You said:

We are NOT a multi racial society, it's an English, Scottish or Welsh society which has a high level of ethnic minorities. Why do people wish to strip the indigenous population of THEIR culture when they leap to the defence of foreign cultures? We are our own worst enemy!!
Virginia, Belvedere, Kent

I was interested in what Tim Rice had to say regarding the fact that if we were as large as Australia we would have no problems with our immigration policy. As someone who has been to Australia I can assure you that they have a very strict immigration policy in that if you cannot contribute something to the country and to its economy and not be a drain on their resources then you might have some chance of getting in. If only we were so resolute!
C Chegwyn, Launceston

The asylum issue is more than a national issue, it is a global issue. As some of the audience commented, the problem of asylum seekers running from their countries should be addressed by the UN and international law. While regimes like the Taliban continue to exist, the number of asylum seekers will increase.
Daniel Francis, London

Why can't our country and other countries in Europe help those countries in conflict to re-build their worn torn cities and establish or improve internal regimes and structures so that people want to stay there rather than come here.
Lynne Evans, Liverpool

It must be borne in mind that most asylum seekers, whether economic or otherwise do not want to be in a country that does not welcome them. In fact a lot of them dream about going back when things are better "back home". In this country, the refugee/asylum seeker that cleans the loo was probably a teacher or nurse back in their country but the language barrier in their host country forces them to live well short of their expected lifestyle.

I am certainly not a racist but Britain is a small island and with so many low paid jobs, and people claiming benefits how can we even afford to be a soft touch? Look at America for example: Forty times bigger then the UK in area, but only five times greater in population! It has a booming economy with plenty of well paid jobs, maybe they should do more of there share, after all their country was built on immigration!
Roger, Bristol

Does anyone know just how many "asylum" seekers legal or otherwise we now have in this country? If we were to open the floodgates as some people seem to suggest at what point do the "real British" move to another part of the world to start again and how long will it take for the freeloaders to follow.
Mike Allan, Chatham, Kent

I was amazed at the naivety of some of the younger members of the audience - they seem to have been brainwashed into believing that Britain was responsible for everything from Iraq to Kosovo and should therefore welcome ANYONE who wished to come here. Of course we should admit genuine refugees, and, thanks to our education system, we need IT specialists etc, but this is a small country, according to some demographers already overcrowded - it must stop somewhere.
D Henry, Edinburgh

Why is that a valid question from a member of tonight's audience who asked for the numbers of people emigrating from this country and how it compares to the increased asylum applications (70,000+). No one on the panel responded with an answer, it was as though the question wasn't relevant to the debate.
Sylvia Thomas, Croydon

If anyone needs to come to Britain, they should be given every opportunity to do so, without being made to feel like criminals. But perhaps the point should be that we, as part of the world, need to stop creating, and contributing, to the reasons why desperate people need to flee their countries, and their homes, in fear of their lives.
TC, Leicester

Personally, I do not feel proud and privileged that asylum seekers and economic migrants make a bee line for this country, more annoyed. A lot of people are sneaking or are being sneaked into this country and this is what the British people do not like. The naive liberals who say asylum seekers should have the run of the country on landing here really do worry me.
Dennis, Portsmouth

Masa please note: In most 'third world' countries between 30% and 45% of the population is under the age of 15 - what do we do when they want a 'piece of the pie'?
Alan Greenwood, Bingley

I feel that by being amongst my own kind in a strange place, country even, would make me feel a whole lot better than being dispersed amongst hostile people who for no fault of their own, mainly ignorance, would treat me as a parasite instead of a person who genuinely needs help. I am not a supporter of the Conservative party but I do feel that well run reception centres are the way forward and can't possibly cost any more than the present system.
Terry Cullum, Grays, Essex

Let me just tell you that the British government must be very proud about their fairness and tolerance compared with the French government. Good courage and viva England.
North African (French National), London

Asylum seekers who are found to be bogus as with illegal immigrants should be locked in prison for five years then deported. Genuine refugees will then find a genuine warm British public willing to help them. People who keep advocating the soft touch may be trying to do the right thing but are actually sending the wrong messages and making the problem worse.
John Langham, London

Should we not be proud that so many people from undeveloped nations are willing to travel for hours and even days to reach this country. That in itself is a testament to our development and position as a world power. We should treat them with dignity and respect, not as criminals. We are luck that as British and European citizens that we'll never have to suffer what they have suffered!
J Rogers, Norwich

It was not mentioned that along with the increases in these people into this country, comes increases in disease which they have when they arrive, and the extra burden this puts on the NHS and its workers, and the amount it costs for interpreter services on the NHS?
Dennis Owen, Acton, London

I and my partner, both British, were homeless for three months. I was told that there were 100 refugees in front of us on the homeless list. We have now been given a flat - it's damp, no heating and I am disabled - how does that work? And I am not racist in any way or form but what about our own homeless before we start helping others?
Noah, Walsall

Was the man complaining about his sons aware that those very same complaints 'can't understand the language' etc are the ones that the German builders complain about when British brickies turn up on their sites as cheap labour? I believe the term is 'economic migration'.
Carrie Bishop, Glasgow

Having given 12 months of hardship between Bosnia and Kosovo, I have seen at first the hand the suffering these people go through. I still feel that the best way to help these people is exactly what we are doing in these countries at the moment. British Forces are rebuilding lives, homes, schools, hospitals...
Mark Neill, Oxford

Should we as a country not look to find accommodation and employment for our OWN homeless and unemployed before we agree to take in any more asylum seekers (genuine or otherwise)? Surely this makes sense. Or if we are to be a part of Europe should all asylum applications be made to the European government and then the numbers can be more evenly spread out over the whole of Europe instead of some countries accepting more than others?
Ryan Davie, Aberdeen

As far as asylum seekers go, no one mentioned the fact that it's their illegal entry that's the problem, not their circumstance.
Simesy, Leamington Spa

The UK has the third highest people density of all industrialised nations after Japan and Holland. We have a finite capacity, no matter how we feel. We must only allow political migrants in who come from a country with a travel advisory of DON'T GO and who pass the immigration tests preferably before they enter.
E Nuffe, Bradford

Wayne Hemingway made the comment that the incoming asylum seekers can provide a skills source for the UK. Surely, with the still high unemployment levels in the UK, we should FIRST ensure that all British citizens have a job BEFORE we give jobs to the asylum seekers. It seems to me that the asylum seekers are just taking jobs from true British citizens, and it is those true British citizens who really deserve that job, not some asylum seeker entering soft-touch Britain.

I am an asylum seeker from Bosnia, have been here for nine years and in that time worked. While working I have paid for my university which I attended part-time, graduated and now work full-time and I believe myself to be a valuable member of this society. I have a large circle of friends from Bosnia and we are all very well educated, work very hard, pay taxes in this country and contribute to it much more than the average UK citizen believes we do. I think people have to start looking at the facts before they let their xenophobic feelings get the better of them and stop using asylum seekers as scapegoats.
Mia, London

This business about asylum seekers bringing skills to the country is rubbish - those people who continue in education here beyond A-levels are the envy of the world with respect to their education. If we need more skilled workers, perhaps we should be educating more British-born people to this standard! We have enough people, we should improve education among them, not resort to recruiting the skills we need from asylum seekers!
Adam Hardy, Bristol

I would like to agree with Sir Tim Rice and please mention this to him - will unemployment get any better? I don't think so. What about a blot on the landscape (high rise buildings) trying to accommodate them? I'm not heartless by any means, but let's be sensible!
Lucy Bourne, Cirencester

If I was so desperate to leave my country of birth due to fear of death or political pressure then I would make for the nearest friendly country, not the one which would guarantee the greatest material benefit!
Fraser Valentine, Stonehaven

I am English and am on maternity leave after having a baby. What disgusts me is the fact that despite paying NI contributions I am only entitled to 16 weeks maternity pay while these people get a lot more and living in an area full of them I do not see that they make any contribution at all to the community. I just think that we are being taken for a ride.
Louisa Jones, London

No one has mentioned the reasons why, if we now do not give much away, these people leapfrog so many countries to get here. I believe the Geneva Convention states that if you are in fear of your life you should go to the next available country for asylum.
Terry Jarman, Rochester

Is the public prepared to accept more refugees into the country who have an officially valid reason to stay? I think not, because most people's interest is in protecting their own economic lot, as opposed to providing humanitarian help to refugees whose poverty is probably well below the official poverty line of Britain. If this world is now about global business, we should also consider the philosophy of living together on a global scale.
Clive Flatau, Amsterdam

Why do asylum seekers travel all across Europe to reach the UK and do not apply in all the countries that they pass through?
Jim Goode, Slough

The gentleman in the audience said something about his sons. Well, keep in mind that most of the asylum seekers have jobs that you would not want to do (ie dish washing, toilet cleaning, etc) and keep this country running.
Masa, London

We completely disregard the statistical evidence that they are needed by the economy - that we are merely playing our part as members of the European Union AND that most of the money for providing this service actually comes from EUROPE. It is not being siphoned from any other service provision.
Morag Kerr, Motherwell

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Why is it always men trying to deny women's right to have an abortion?

Audience question: With regard to President Bush and Liam Fox why is it always men trying to deny women's right to have an abortion? You said:

As a Conservative myself I tend to have two minds about abortion! Firstly I feel disgusted by the views of ultra right-wing Christians who think abortion is wrong even if it's because of rape or if a pregnancy was endangering the mother's life, and Alistair Darling is right that it should never be made illegal! However I am equally disgusted by the way that abortion can be used as a form of contraception or convenience at the expense of our taxes!
Matthew, Newcastle

How can a civilised society justify the massive use of abortion in the world today. Surely we should start to respect the rights of the unborn child and allow it to live. It is about time abortion was abolished except in exceptional circumstances.
Dominic Montgomery, Huddersfield

Fourteen years ago at the age of 18 I got pregnant. I considered an abortion, but my conscience wouldn't let me. I went on to have my son who is now a healthy, lively lad. I am still married to the father of my son and have gone on to have two more boys, all of which would not have happened if I had had the abortion. Life starts from the moment of conception, and it is never right to kill the unborn.
Karen, Herts

Abortion would be a choice made less often if men were induced to take more responsibility for contraception and, should an 'unwanted' child be born, be bound to support and care for it as much as the mother. The 'boys will be boys' myth, that they have a prerogative to behave badly and irresponsibly leaving women to pick up the pieces should be educated out of popular belief.
Anne Chadwick, Chichester

While I support a woman's right to choose, surely would it not also be sensible to discourage abortion where possible by promoting alternatives such as adoption, or through better education. Wayne Hemingway's comments justifying abortion on the grounds that a child might be born into unhappy circumstances, were ill-conceived. We all have to face unhappiness in the course of our lives - it is no cause for ending a pregnancy.
Geoff Brown, London

Was it panellist Wayne Hemingway who tried to argue abortion is an acceptable option for children who would otherwise be born in an "unwanted family". Had it occurred to him that there are plenty of "wanting families" capable of ADOPTING unwanted new-borns? I realise there has been controversy recently over internet adoptions, but through the official channels adopting families can be screened for the child's safety.
Kim, Ashford

When I hear any debate regarding abortion, I'm saddened. We hear of the rights of women, but would we agree if someone was claiming the right to kill another human being? Yet that is in effect what we are doing. I have great sympathy with a woman who has an unwanted pregnancy, I'm sure the pressure can be intense. This is where support and counselling as to the best course of action is absolutely vital!
Gerwyn, Carmarthen

As with every media-grabbing sensitive issue the Tories try to make political capital of abortion - despicable.
John, London

Abortion should be the choice of the person concerned. No politician or cleric should be allowed to remove that choice. If they were the country would be full of homes for the unwanted children that could not be removed in-vitro.
Geoff Evans, Kendal

What no one mentioned in the debate on President Bush's move to block money to groups dealing with abortion, is that he is blocking money to family planning groups. Therefore the money is not only being taken from abortion clinics but from enabling people to have some control over getting pregnant in the first place. Surely this will lead to more unwanted pregnancies and more black market abortions.
L Ellis, Perth

I was dismayed, as a lifelong Conservative, to read of Dr Fox's views on abortion. If the party adopts this as policy, which thank goodness Angela Browning intimated it would not, I will never vote Conservative again. It would be a retrograde step - something 21st century women could not accept.
Kate White, Gillingham, Dorset

When I first got pregnant, naively, I wanted to have an abortion and was adamant that it was the right thing to do. However, I reversed the decision and now have a 10-yr-old boy who people say is good-looking, intelligent and very polite - it is an emotive subject but contrary to what Rosie Boycott said, some people do take the decision of abortion very lightly.
Mrs A North, London

The morals of abortion should not be turned into a political issue. Although the right to an abortion should be accessible to all women, we should nevertheless ask ourselves why, in an age of easily available contraception, morning after pills and better education, there continues to be so many abortions taking place.
Adrian, Stockport

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General comments on the programme:

Please can we have a more varied panel henceforth. Many of your guests this series, (and last) have been on the programme many times before, and it's all become a little bit boring and predictable!!!
Adam Greenwood, London

Would it be possible to invite guests onto Question Time who command some respect from the general public?
Sheila Brownlee, High Wycombe

What about presenting a viewer's question to the panel each week taken from the internet?
M Mullins, Chesterfield

Well done once again Question Time for allowing us not to forget that we have 'new right' xenophobes and self-righteous anti-abortionists in our midst. I refer to this evening's comments on asylum seekers and abortion. Let all be welcome in what is the only true 'land of the free'. Let women have freedom of their was too hard a struggle to lose it.
Pete, Cockermouth

Have just listened to Wayne Hemingway's views that asylum seekers have rights, but that unborn babies that are viable don't. How can he say that, what are his justifications, or did he simply not express himself very well.
Philip Pilgrim, Hythe

Alistair Darling was the epitome of new Labour, arrogant to the point of failing to show the caring side of the government but managing to show how inadequate Tony Blair's government is at being a world showcase for this country.
Peter A McHugh, Normanton, West Yorks

Congratulations to Wayne Hemingway for his common sense, socialism and ability to engage with the audience in a straightforward and non-threatening way. Let's see more of him on programmes like this. The same goes for Rosie Boycott. A pleasure to listen to.
Jill Ebrey, Ramsbottom, Bury, Lancs

Just in from the theatre and wanted to congratulate Tim Rice on "Joseph" at the Grand Theatre in Swansea! Still great fun after all these years!
Mary Dolan, Swansea

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