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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 11:45 GMT
March 8, London
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The topics discussed this week were:

A bare-faced Budget?

Audience question: Today's front page of The Sun said: "It's in the bag, Tony." Doesn't that make it a bare-faced election Budget? You said:

I hope that voters are not taken in by the pre-election sweeteners in the Budget. They should remember the discontent over the last four years, such as the fuel crisis. They should also remember that, like a puppy, voting in Labour again will not just be for a few months, but for the next four - five years.
Nigel Silvestri, Harwich

Paddy Ashdown's eulogy of Michael Portillo said it all. The idea that Mr Portillo can anymore be seen as the heir to Thatcher no longer has credibility. An 'Opposition' which boasts that it will outspend this spendthrift Labour government does not deserve our vote. Who is going to speak for those of us who believe in low taxation in this country?
Barney Smith, Cambridge

Will the government admit that the last Budget was a bribe to the voters to go out and vote. When will the government understand that the British public are getting fed up with false promises. People only need to look at the decrease of fuel from March to June to understand that the government is playing games. If Mr Blair wants people to vote for the Labour party then why doesn't he start delivering on the promises he set at the last election.
Patrick Cadwallader, Sittingbourne

When Gordon Brown announced that he was paying £34 billion of the national debt he did not tell us that over the next five years he plans to increase the national debt by £57 billion. This budget is nothing but an election fraud. It is a con and should be treated as such.
Wayne Morris, Port Talbot

The reason why education may be getting better and resources are more widely spread is not due to the Labour government inputting money but due to parents helping the schools in lessons (voluntarily) and parents and companies, whether private or not, assisting with the monies due to pay for much needed equipment in schools - such as computers.
June Turner

Labour supporters keep on crowing about how well the economy has been managed and if it wasn't for Gordon Brown's "prudence" he wouldn't have been able to give us all the handouts in the Budget. I think they must have forgotten that the economy was well into recovery mode when they came to power and they followed Tory spending plans for the first two years. As for handouts what we are getting back or will get back eventually, is only a small proportion of what has been taken in the first place.
Darren Beecroft, Bingley

Labour's taxation and spending policies are the most ridiculous in living memory. They have clobbered many people in this country with stealth taxes including many people on low incomes and then they give a little bit of it back in the form of benefits. Why not let people keep their own money in the first place?
Dominic Montgomery, Huddersfield

If the Conservatives and Lib Dems truly believe that Gordon Brown has mislead the public in his Budget and this very same Budget was commended to all MP's in the Houses of Parliament, why are they not demanding his resignation for misleading the house? They should put up or shut up!!
Andrew Kilburn, Chorley

It's probably true that I have gained little or nothing personally, due to my salary. But education is working, my 5 -year-old's school has and will benefit from money and guidance that the government has and is providing. I have every confidence in Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, in the future of my child's education ....... please don't let the Tories back.
Gerry Adams, Middlesex

Why is everyone slamming the Budget today for there not being enough spending? Brown was clearing the budget deficit to bring us into line with the convergence criteria for the euro. Why destabilise the economy for short-term gain inevitably leading to long term loss if we were not able to become part of "Euroland"?
Poppea La Vereda, Exeter

The supply teacher told it all. With four offers of a job why did he not take one. Because the previous government allowed teachers to retire on a fat pension and then take work as supplies at a very handsome fee and with absolutely no responsibility for the school, reports or reporting on pupil progress. Once retired no one should be allowed to return in this way.
Jack Oliver, Newark

I would vote for Labour again this year but that is because they need more time to cure the problems the Conservatives left. However it seems rather obvious that Gordon Brown has made his Budget sound very promising as the election is around the corner but if, WHEN, Labour win again and his next Budget is as good as his latest one I will be pleasantly surprised.
Anand Karia, Edgware, London

I see that Michael Portillo is again spouting the nonsense that one of the reasons that police numbers are so low is due to poor morale, caused of course by the current government. Speaking as a serving police officer, I would contend that much of the poor morale today can be traced back to the time of the previous Tory government, which imposed the SHEEHY enquiry which resulted in a loss of many allowances, and a reduction in starting salary (by £2000 pa) for new recruits.
Bernard, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Labour seem to be believing their own spin. They do not seem to know what is happening is schools. My wife and I, as parents of a 9 and 11-yr-old, know how under-resourced schools are, with poorly photocopied homework sheets, to constantly changing teachers (supply teachers)... they should wake up to it all!
Marc L Veary, Wembley

Can I make a point in response to Ruth Lea's statement that it was irresponsible of the government to raise fuel tax. This may seem a minor point, but to those of us who are dependent on vehicles in the absence of a reliable local service it would be an extreme slap in the face to be charged any more on the ever increasing "blame the driver for the global warming" campaign
Robert Doherty, Helensburgh

I can't believe there was somebody in the audience and on the panel who was against the cuts in fuel duty. Can't these environmentalists get it through their one track minds that if you tax people who depend on their cars a lot then they are not going to be able to afford to buy a newer, less polluting car and therefore the environment will get more polluted, not less.
Peter Wilcox, Bridlington

Many commentators have suggested that the Budget contains something for everyone, yet the public have received only 1p back out of the 10p the government have already taken. Again the government have completely disregarded the needs of students. Is this because university students represent an insignificant proportion of the electorate?
Greg Gay, Portsmouth University student

Are the increases in public spending on health and education sustainable in the long run? How much economic growth will be required for the increase to be balanced out by increasing wealth in the country?
Paul Leonard, Bristol

I think Gordon Brown's Budget was sound - its principle is to lower national debt to increase long term spending overall. The Conservatives do not want to admit they would have to borrow more money to fill their empty promises. As Gordon Brown asked, what is the Tories Budget ideals and how can they be realised?
Richard Leeson, Hawick

Why did Mr Brown decide that £35bn was the correct amount to pay off the national debt? Would he have served the people better by putting £1bn extra into our health and education services?
Neil Poole, Scunthorpe

Am I alone in finding it depressing that a comic (The Sun) is regarded as being politically influential on the future of this country?
Roger Smith, Cornwall

When will we see an end to the party politics of populism to woo voters as opposed to efficient long term policies which benefit the population as a whole?
Andy O Donnell, Preston

Could you please tell why, if the government says that they have put more money into schools, then why does private business find it very profitable to run schemes (such as computers for schools) and schools welcome these schemes?
Robin Taylor, Carmarthen

I find Michael Portillo's response to the budget absolutely amazing. Michael Portillo should understand that if it were not for this chancellor's brilliant management of the economy there would not have been this money to give back to us and there would not have been the money in national purse either.
Elaine Spink, Bedfordshire

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Why does William Hague make me feel like a foreigner living in an intolerant land?

Audience question: As someone happily living in a multicultural society why does William Hague make me feel like a foreigner living in an intolerant land? You said:

I think Anne Robinson's comments were nothing to take offence over. I live here in Pontypridd and attend the University of Glamorgan, I have found the locals to be completely inhospitable to anyone and completely suspicious of everyone who they don't know on a first name basis. If this is representative of the Welsh in general, then I say Anne is completely right. If you think my comments are racist, then laugh them off, don't take me in front of a tribunal.
Jason Devlin, Pontypridd

Mr TP Bragg! I've read some rubbish in my time but that is ridiculous. Enoch Powell was a total disgrace and may I add discredited politican by even some of this own party! To attempt to pertpetuate the myth that he was some great man is preposterous! Hague is getting just as bad as he tries to cling onto some minority xenophobic support! While most people will look at who to vote for logically you may have difficulty choosing between the National Front and the Conservatives.
Chris Blackburn, Preston

Karen Halbert says she will now vote Tory because of Hague's 'foreign land' speech. It's been a success then. The Tories whole election strategy is to go for one issue. They intend to feed on the irrational xenophobia of many of British (English?) people. Luckily the majority of voters are too open-minded and rational to be taken in by this.
Mick M, Hull

Rather than concentrate on an issue which 99.9% of the country agrees with that "people who have no right to be in the country should not be here" Paddy Ashdown himself played the race card by making out that William Hague's comments on asylum were racist. I believe everyone agrees that genuine asylum seekers should be provided with shelter and protection.
John Ward

Alongside the term 'racism', political correctness is being used by spinning-out-of-control New Labour to try and to muzzle free speech. Adopting attractive terms like 'multicultural' society, and accusing everyone that doesn't want to join the euro or subsidise economic immigrants, as being rascist, is no more than one more strategy designed to undermine the electorate's ability to voice and stand up for our own nationalism.
Howard Bayley, Brighton

Paddy Ashdown is a disgrace. He deliberately attempted to milk the situation last night and failed dismally. William Hague's speech was in fact a fair correct speech and in no way racist. It is just that the press, Labour and Lib Dems have nothing better to do than try and force these disgraceful accusations on the people of Britain. I think they should attempt to do their jobs rather than try to put down William Hague who is innocent on these claims, and I might add correct over the issue of "asylum seekers".
Andy, Wolverhampton

I quite like the Australian system! Lock them up and then send them home. Any chance of that getting passed in this country? If they have a skill we need and are employable they can stay, if they want three wives and nine children to all live on the state - BYE BYE.
Wendy Phillips, Wrexham, N Wales

I must register my disgust at the comments by Paddy Ashdown about William Hague tonight - it was the nastiest and most underhand political comment I can ever recall. Also I must say that I have heard or seen no previous media coverage suggesting that his speech was anything else other than about further erosion of national sovereignty and it seems strange that it was selected as an issue for discussion over all those topical issues foreshadowed on this site and not discussed.
Alan Marshall, Southampton

It is correct to question the motives of William Hague¿s speech trying to scare the public with the fear that Britain will become a foreign land. At PMQs, it is not health, education, transport or pensions he raises, but nearly always asylum seekers and Europe, repeatedly pressing the right buttons, like in his speech, to play on peoples fears and resentments. Is it any wonder that some asylum seekers have been beaten up by thugs, and other British-born members of ethnic minorities may also start to be more fearful of attack?
Paul Rogers, Ilfracombe

As an English white person, all this talk of racial intolerance from natives in this country makes me wince with shame. It is a common symptom of white people with too much time on their hands to try and force 'love thy neighbour'. How many other countries in the world are honestly as tolerant of different cultures as the UK? To my mind none.
Ben, Kent

What has Paddy Ashdown actually achieved in politics? His vitriolic attack on William Hague did him no credit - perhaps he hopes to cultivate a Lib/Lab pact in the future? Some hopes Paddy!
Mary Kallagher, King's Lynn

Willian Hague is right. It's time we clamped down on these freeloaders who as masquarading as asylum seekers. By all means allow in the few who are genuinely persecuted but be firm with the rest and send them packing. Charity begins at home and while we have homeless people sleeping in the streets, we should not be opening our doors to all and sundry and offering them council flats, etc. Genuine asylum seekers would not have to cross half way across Europe to reach safety.
A Jones, Perth

As a lesbian I am amazed that Clare Short feels Britain has become a more tolerant nation with regard to gays and lesbians. We are the only minority who are consciously discriminated against by national and local politicians.
Deb Woodhall-James

I have read the transcript of William Hague's speech and the reference to the "foreign land" has no connection to the issue of asylum. The only disgraceful speeches of the last week were the ill informed ones of Sir Paddy Ashdown and Clare Short on tonight's programme.
Dominic Montgomery, Huddersfield

What is wrong with stopping economic migration? This genuine problem should be debated and not obstructed by political correctness.
Graeme, Tonbridge

Did any of the panellists actually watch "Room 101"? Did nobody notice that Ms Robinson gave "envy" as her reason for disliking the Welsh, saying that they were better at everything, like sport, singing etc?
Debra Powell, London

Michael Portillo should run for prime minister as W Hague has no popularity.
Rod Hall, Leeds

How can Paddy Ashdown, a man of humble intellect, dare criticise the gargantuan intellect of Enoch Powell? How dare he insult Mr Powell's great honesty and integrity - qualities sadly lacking in so many of our contemporary politicians?
TP Bragg, Devon

I agree with Ben Green that Anne Robinson should be able to say whatever she likes and dislikes what ever happened to the freedom of speech.
Jayne Hussey, Milton Keynes

Clare Short and others should learn that there is a clear distinction between race discrimination and discrimination against gays. I am black African by descent - a fact which is immediately recognised as soon as I walk into a room and even before I open my mouth! I am therefore faced with potential prejudice as soon as I set foot in any given situation. The same is not true for gay people - who (generally speaking) are not identifiable by their physical appearance! Policy makers should be aware of this huge difference!
Katie Cruickshank, Manchester

Thank God for two sensible women - I've always admired Clare Short - her few carefully chosen words tonight about Anne Robinson and her totally racist remarks about Wales and the Welsh people were very appropriate, without making too much of a fuss. Also Ruth Lea's comments hit a nerve without making too much of the issue. Of course, the men on the panel did not so much as agree or disagree (the chairman was not much better and only managed a bit of a giggle or snort!)
Gwen Jones, Aberystwyth

William Hague's view of Britain as a foreign land doesn't worry me half as much as the possibility of Britain as William Hague's land.
Nigel Tregoning, Falmouth, Cornwall

I do think that people are becoming too sensitive about race, and are looking for racist comments where there are none. I saw Ann Robinson on Room 101 and being Welsh I took it in good humour. If Wales had a programme like that then someone would probably take the rise out of the English.
Simon Griffiths, Cardiff

On the question of Hague's speech and Anne Robinson's comments about the Welsh, I see a link. As a Welshman living in England for 16 years, I have the belief that there are good and bad everywhere. Hague and Robinson are unfortunately making cheap and pernicious remarks at minorities who are easy to target. In Hague's case, it is dangerous, in Robinson's case, it is rude, ignorant and uncultural. Now who is the weakest link?
Leighton McKibbin, Bebbington, Wirral

I actually read William Hague's speech off of the internet. Without a doubt it left me cold, I could not believe what I was reading. But what do we expect from the Tories who want to lock up asylum seekers and ban them from the face of the earth.
Elaine Spink, Bedfordshire

I was disgusted at Clare Short, Ken Livingstone and Paddy Ashdown's remarks about William Hague's speech. They were politically motivated and trying to score points. None of them showed any sincerity in what they said. It is a well known fact that there are more asylum seekers in this country than ever before. Why? Because France and Germany close their eyes when they cross their borders in order to get them out of their country and into ours. They don't want them!
Jeanette Thompson, Stanley

I would like to say to Mr Portillo that the UK only gets claims for 75k asylum seekers while Holland (I'm a Dutch national living in Scotland) has over 45k asylum seekers. The UK has 55m people while Holland has only 16m.
Andre de Wolf, Ayr

Ken Livingstone needs a geography lesson. Great Britain is smaller then France, Germany and Spain. Political rhetoric does not alter physical fact. Why are the Labour party scared of discussing immigration, are they trying to distance themselves from Peter Mandelson!
Vincent Millar, Redditch

I have been a Labour supporter all my voting life. I AGREE with Mr Hague we are far too soft on asylum seekers. However good for me the Budget was I will vote Tory from now on!
Karen Halbert, Doncaster

Regarding Anne Robinson's comments about the Welsh. Nobody seems to bat an eyelid when the English are playing Germany at football which seems to drum up anti-German feeling. Is it not the same thing?
Ben Borrowman, Aberdeenshire

Anne Robinson should be free to say and think what she likes about the Welsh, English or any ethnic minority and should not be penalised for it!
Ben Green, Blackburn

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Should Peter Mandelson be restored to the government?

Audience question: Should Peter Mandelson be restored to the government if the Hammond report clears him of lying in the Hinduja affair? You said:

I don't think he should come back into government. He's welcome to become part of Tony's informal kitchen cabinet but letting him get his feet back under the cabinet table is too much for me to stomach. Whether he lied or not is not really the point here. Mandelson has encouraged cynicism not once but twice and I personally think it's damaging to Labour for cabinet members to have this type of baggage.
Lee Davis, York

If as anticipated the Hammond enquiry does "clear" Mandelson, it is only natural justice that he should be offered a senior position in the next Labour government (or possibly something in Europe?) It was unjust that he was forced to resign in the first place. Surely one is innocent until proven guilty.
Bernard, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Surely if he is deemed not fit to be a member of the cabinet and resigned he should resign as a poltician and then seek re-election.
Pete Thomas, Cambridge

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When are we going to see improvements made to our public transport system?

Audience question: I live in London and I'm ashamed of our public transport system, especially the tube. There seems to be lots of talk about it and no action from Ken Livingstone and I'd like to know when we're going to see some improvement. You said:

The way the government handles the negotiations with Ken Livingstone and his transport commissioner Bob Kiley frightens me. Why are they so reluctant to reveal the facts? Why don't they want to give power to one manager who oversees the whole system? Are they afraid to lose their power to a democratically elected representative? Or is this just the old secrecy culture in British politics?
Ralph Benker, London

I agree the tube must be updated preferably without private investment, but when will people realise there is not the capacity to take many more passengers even with millions given. The only way forward is to use London's dedicated bus routes and put trams in them like in Manchester, therefore you could connect all tube stations with BR and increase the capacity into London without traffic problems.
Sheldon Jones, Chingford, London

Poor old Londoners! When I visit the capital, I go down a hole in the ground, and within 10 minutes I'm on a train - maybe overcrowded and smelly - but I'm on my way. Try living in rural Lincolnshire. If you didn't know better, you could stand at the bus stop for three hours waiting for the next one to take you to the nearest town to do your shopping. No wonder we need cars.
JC Smith, Lincoln

I moved from London last year - the state of the tube was one of my reasons for doing so. It now takes me five minutes to drive to work instead of one hour of suffering smelly armpits on the Northern Line. Ken Livingstone and his colleagues should be given complete control of the network. Only then will London have a decent tube.
Greg Smith, Swindon

Surely one of the platforms of the Livingstone election was that he is an action-based manager and leader and that he was prepared to cut the red tape as necessary to make decisions.
Claire Bennett, Taunton

PPP is responsible for the state that our railways are in now, we must not make the same mistake with the underground.
A Perez, Gillingham

I travel from Trowbridge to Bath most days by train. It disgusts me how often the train is running late, and what's more that I have to pay the full fare. What other private company would be able to charge their full rate for such an appalling service. It may seem naive but why did somebody instigate a system where people could shun their responsibilities?
Ashley Hutchinson, Trowbridge

Every time I watch Ken Livingstone he impresses me, he should be given more power and I agree with his views on the underground.
Peter Ribbens, Rochester, Kent

Well, it disturbs me why, when everyone is talking about the tube service in London and the strikes etc, as a public service, we are not given the details (precisely) as to why the tube workers are striking and also why London Underground are not giving in to the requests of the tube workers.
Lee Sexton, London

Why can we not see a transport system in place for the London underground that sees the public purse used to maintain the infrastructure with private companies running the actual trains? This would surely mean higher standards of safety and private companies paying the government for using the lines. Seems simple to me.
Paul Mcgeough, Ayr

Why does Ken Livingstone insist on road tolls, which will push drivers onto a tube network which he admits will not see improvements, if he had control next week, for two years?
Marc Hutley, London

Amazing to hear Michael Portillo saying that the Tories would have been lambasted for bringing over an American as Livingstone has done (for the tubes). I seem to recall them bringing over a certain McGregor in a multi-million pound package, so that he would close down our steel and coal industries.
Glenn Beard, Swansea

The mayor of London should use his powers to call a referendum of the people of London to ask if they want PPP or bonds.
Stephen Jones, Holborn, London

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General comments on the programme:

When watching your programme I cannot help drawing an analogy to Ms Robinson's "The Weakest Link", a programme which is rude and denigrating to people. I never watch it. You too, Mr Dimbleby, sir, by addressing members of your audience as "that woman in the third row" or "that man in the front" reduces your programme to the same level. I do watch it, but only because your panel members know the polite way of addressing the audience as ladies and gentlemen.
RE Graemer, Leighton Buzzard

I saw that the people on the panel obviously respected one another and I wonder why politcal parties (ie voice of the people) can't respect and listen to each other more often. Bickering will not help either the UK or the world become a better place to live.
Philip Hinton, Exeter

It was a successful programme. I think this was because of the quality of the debate, the guest speakers and the positions they have defended, especially from known internationalists. I wonder why under-age politicians are in charge, on all sides!
Mahfood, London

Congrats to the BBC and panel members for tonight's Question Time. I really enjoyed what appeared to me... mutual respect and good humour.
Andy Pritchard, Fleet, Hants

Yet again, a superb performance from Michael Portillo, against the overpowering physical presence of the opposition. What a surprise that we have had to witness a blown out of all proportion speech by William Hague.
Chris Smith, Folkestone

Having watched tonight's Question Time, I became suddenly saddened. In the loss of Paddy Ashdown as a political leader, this country has lost a succinct, reasonable, intelligent, articulate and amusing man, whose every sentence was wholly commendable. Perhaps the pressure is off these days, but that takes nothing away from the refreshment a floating voter like myself receives from seeing a politician who really does appear to have his head screwed on in the right direction.
Gary Feldman, London

Will Mr Dimbleby please chair this evening's programme fairly instead of allowing Clare Short to ride roughshod over him whilst he stamps down the other panellists when they try to state an opinion.
Russell, Berkshire

Is there any chance of stopping Clare Short from interrupting, so far she's done so nine times?
Mike Davies, London

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