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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
March 29, Leeds
You can join Question Time's internet debate by emailing your views on the topics discussed in the latest programme to:

You can watch the latest programme online in Real Video by clicking on Latest edition.

The topics discussed this week were:

Audience question: Should William Hague have expelled John Townend from the Conservative Party? You said:

Keith Wiseman and others think that to justify a nationalist or right wing agenda, they simply have to call the other side "politically correct". As far as the French policy, it is not to fast-track people to the UK. I am not happy at the apparent laxness of the French authorities, but may I remind you that the rules to be declared an asylum seeker in France are far stricter than the British ones. Also, asylum seekers hardly ever reach France from outside the Schengen countries and those countries could themselves be accused of "passing the buck" to France.
Pascal Jacquemain, Croydon, UK (French)

I want to congratulate John Townend for having the bottle to speak out for us Anglo Saxons who feel second class and have no freedom of speech.
David Mulliner, Salford

Pascal Jacquemain. If the French government shares your concern for foreign immigrants, then why does it make sure that as many asylum seekers as possible are "fast tracked" to Britain? Or is this another subject that the politically correct will not allow us to discuss?
Keith Wiseman, Bury

If only the shadow cabinet had even a fraction of the common sense of John Townend. For Hague to disassociate himself from Townend's remarks was a typically cowardly move. The fact is that Enoch Powell - supported by Townend's remarks - had principles that today's politicians can only dream of. Townend was quite right to speak his mind as he did. Many ex-Conservatives, such as myself, are 100% behind him.
Barney Smith, Cambridge

Finally an MP has had the courage to speak out about the problems that mass immigration will cause us. The whole face of Britian is set to change. But it seems that William Hague has not defended the MP against the Labour Party and has followed the tide of political correctness by expelling him.
John Kitson, Torquay

Keith Wiseman, I do agree that people are free to say what they want. But this freedom is not absolute. There are safeguards in the law. This is not about political correctness. You cannot call for racial hatred, you cannot call for murder... And even if you could, should such speech emanate from the Conservative Party (which is supposed to be inclusive) or from overtly racist parties?
Pascal Jacquemain, Croydon, UK (French)

I am absolutely disgusted by the comments of John Townend and I am even more disappointed by the fact that there are people on this website prepared to agree with him. What he has said is racist and he should be sacked. Moreover he is incorrect - a society comprised of a single race is weakened by genetic inbreeding. Immigration has been of great benefit to this country's economy with many doctors, teachers and businessmen coming from ethnic minorities. For John Townend and the like it's time they cast away their little Englander mentality and realised that we're living in the 21st century.
Mark Dempsey, Gloucester

Have the politically correct in this country at last got the right to tell politicians what to debate? John Townend has the right to say what he thinks. If voters do not agree then they do not have to vote for him. It is known as democracy.
Keith Wiseman, Bury

How many more immigrants are we to allow into the country. Where do we draw the line? Shouldn't we look after our own people first? Charity begins at home.
Martin Flye, Cardiff

Ann Widdecombe has been keen to disassociate William Hague's remarks about Britain being turned into a "foreign land" from his remarks on asylum seekers. She may be pedantically correct, but surely her point is irrelevant. Since he clearly cannot have meant "foreign" in the literal sense - a country cannot be literally foreign to itself, and it is no surprise that Britain is a foreign country from the point of view of those living abroad - I am at a loss to understand William Hague's statement. The only interpretation seems to be that he means "inferior" when he says "foreign". Making such a glaring error demonstrates xenophobia, does it not?
Warrick Barton, London

John Townend spoke his mind and is castigated for it. Thousands watch with pride at the Cenotaph as veterans march by. Why? Because they volunteered to die so that we had freedom of speech that was denied to millions in Europe.
D Jones, Fishguard

I do not know one single person who does not agree with John Townend. Immigration started in this country in order to provide cheap labour (not to create a wonderful multicultural society!)
J Smith, Leeds

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Audience question: I come from a mining community which was devastated in the 1980s. Why should farmers to be compensated for foot-and-mouth when mining and steel communities were not? You said:

The farmer that spoke from the back of the audience reiterated once again why farmers put people's backs up. Have you noticed that nothing is ever their fault? BSE, CJD, foot-and-mouth? Nope not their fault. I don't care if they are subsidised by the tax payer however, what I do object to is their constant attitude of blaming everyone else.
E Spinks, Kensworth

Were the public not behind Thatcher when she crushed the unions in the 80s? I am certain that she left the country in a far better state than she found it.
Edward Barham, London

Everyone is talking about the suffering being experienced by farmers. However the farmers suffering financially is going to be nowher near the suffering experienced by hoteliers and everyone else connected with the tourist industry. What is going to be done to compensate all these other industries?
Peter Jukes, Barmouth

Rarely have I been so angry as I was with Ann Widdecombe tonight. Has she forgotten her government's crass reaction to BSE/CJD? Here people died, not just animals. Ann Widdecombe's childish and petulant interruptions are just opportunist as is her party, pathetic.
Elaine Dower, Bedfordshire

I think it rather rich for the farmer in the audience to claim that they maintain the rights of way free of charge. I think it is the least they can do considering the amount the British taxpayer has paid these farmers over the years in subsidies to produce more than we can consume. He also commented on the fact that the tourist industry has now suffered since the rights of ways were closed. Was he happy or proud of this?
Stewart Ferguson, Brechin

It would be nice if everybody was concerned about the 6000 Corus steel workers jobs as they were about a few thousand farmers.
Gav Sheridan, Galashiels

With regard to foot-and-mouth disease what is the issue? How dissimilar is it to a common cold? We are encouraged to believe that it is not harmful to eat infected meat, so what is the real problem with its existence in the UK? If vaccine is used as a cure/temporary cure why is export banned, other than foreign nations banning the import? Are there any reasons other than naive political reasons why foot-and-mouth could exist unchecked?
Nick Panchaud, Reigate, Surrey

When are farmers going to start accepting any sort of responsibility for the poor state of their industry? They feed their animals rubbish, mashed up bits of other dead animals, they keep them in dirty and overcrowed conditions and the animals get infected with disease. What do the farmers expect? They are receiving compensation and saturated media cover. Where was the compensation and media cover for the miners, car workers and steelworkers? I am a taxpayer and live in the countryside and I am fed up with bailing farmers out time after time becaue some of them seem incapable of managing their own business.
David Jones, Bridgwater

It's all very well Ann Widdecombe and others saying the government has mishandled the foot-and-mouth crisis, but the last one in 1967 like this one occurred when there was a Labour government. We simply do not know how well the Tories would have done. We do know how appallingly they dealt with the BSE crisis, about the mendacity, deception and slowness to act until it was too late.
Peter Haymes, Felixstowe

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Doesn't the countryside count?

Audience question: What message does it send to the countryside if Tony Blair calls an election - that it doesn't count? You said:

Of course the election has to be called on 3 May - any delay will just signal to the rest of the world that the situation is even worse than it is. To delay will cause even more problems for tourism than they have already!
Mike Greetham, Huddersfield

Referring to the prime minister's plea for people to return to the countryside. Today my wife and I drove round part of the prime minister's Sedgefield constituency. Every footpath that we saw was closed. The farm gates bore warning notices. During the 30 miles or so that we travelled there was nowhere to walk except the roadside. What does he expect responsible visitors to do?
Peter Coles, Sacriston, Durham

I wonder how keen William Hague would be to delay a general election if this were the fifth and not the fourth year of the Labour government? It is so hypocritical of him to ask that the election be delayed so that 'politics' will not interfere with the current foot-and-mouth 'crisis'. His very actions are turning the issue political and furthermore, sending the wrong message to those wishing to visit or invest in this country. As a 'natural' Tory voter I am disgusted at his stance and will be joining many others who will not be supporting him or his party at the next election, which I do hope will be on May 3, 2001.
Michael MacKenzie, Bristol

The Labour government has totally mishandled the foot-and-mouth outbreak and made it into a serious crisis. They failed to act swiftly and efficiently because they had their minds on an election which clouded their judgement. This is a scandal that has damaged all rural businesses as a result. Blair does not deserve to stay in power.
Matthew Wright, Denbigh

Surely this is the time when this country should move to a fixed election date so it is no longer in the hands of the political parties, who will try and make as much political capital from any decision that is made.
Brendan Weir, Leeds

The farmers have always maintained that they require subsistence in all cases in running their farms for the benefit of the public. If the industry needs such support should we not consider alternative ways of providing for the public. Farms are run for profit not for some perceived state benefit. The General Election should go ahead, if it is seen appropriate by the current government.
Paul Greenwood, Addlestone

With all the debate about the forthcoming elections and all the talk about it denying the people their rights. These people are the farmers and their dependants, but what about the rights of the rest of the population. What are the relevant percentages, and more to the point what were the turnout figures in the last local and general elections in the areas were they are now crying out about not being able to vote if the elections are held in May.
John Hall, W Southport

I will not vote locally or nationally in support of our farmers and others should do the same, until this foot-and-mouth is under control. Tony Blair take note.
A Matthews, Sheerness

I think that the elections should be delayed until after the foot-and-mouth crisis is over. It is, of course, not in Mr Blair's interests to wait - if held now, the government is given a free reign over the foot-and-mouth crisis as there is no major political consequence if he takes the wrong route. If the election is held over until the abating of the crisis, the government has to sit in the spotlight, and they cannot afford to get it wrong, otherwise they may lose the election.
Philip Howard, Dartmouth

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Audience question: Why has the National Health Service failed the elderly? You said:

Personally, I think the solution for the National Health Service is that whilst there's nothing inherently wrong with health care being collectively paid for, it should not be done so out of general taxation but rather a "health tax" paid direct to the NHS unless, that is, an individual or individual household, decided they'd rather opt out and go the private route. That way competition would be introduced - and if true - standards would rise.
Nathaniel R Hawking, London

The National Health Service is underfunded and there is no way that any government could give enough. Taxes would have to go higher than people would want to pay. The only way would be to privatise it and then the insurance would move the prices up. People would have no choice but we would get a system of real quallity.
Frank Lay, Bracknell

When is this, or indeed, any future government going to realise the only way forward for the health care of this nation, is for it to be government organised and NOT solely government funded?
Geoff Evans, Kendal

I just wanted to say that my belief is that the NHS is an issue that demands an indepth debate, and it should not be an issue that the political parties can use to score points against eachother! The NHS needs more time and investment if more improvements are to be made, it is not an issue that can be dealt with in a short period of time!
Somayyeh, London

It seems we're all concerned about the diminishing quality of health care. Perhaps various governments around the world should have a few summit meetings and see if collectively we can't be far more caring about our sick and elderly. Life is hard enough when we are fit and well. It's hell when we are sick and helpless!
Robert Wilkinson, Whitby, Ontario, Canada

This evening the subject of health spending reared up again. The problem is not either party's level of spend, but the way it is spent within each health board.
Charles L Patterson, Orphir, Orkney

When will social services get the same publicity as the NHS? Lack of funding over many years has left the country with a shortage of residential beds and home care agencies all of which can prolong a hospital stay or mean several moves as homes close down.
M Lemmer, Honiton

Yes, elderly patients do get a raw deal in today's NHS hospitals. Not just through lack of money in the system, but because of a lack of good basic nurse training. Excellent hygiene standards, patient personal care and careful feeding of the frail and ill, (strictly overseen by superb ward sisters) were the order of the day when I trained as a nurse in the 60's. The patient definitely came first. I wonder which political party dare bring back Florence Nightingale!
Frank Deacon, Oxford

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Should Mr Hague change his image?

Audience question: Would the Tories' ratings in the polls improve if Mr Hague would agree to a hair transplant and elocution lessons? You said:

Hair transplants and elocution lessons might fool some of the electorate that William Hague is more than a lightweight opportunist. But a smart haircut didn't do Neil Kinnock any good. People saw at Sheffield that he was more a proletarian yob than a statesman fit to lead his country.
Duncan Fraser, Inverness

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General comments on the programme:

Thank you for your distinguished programme. It's hopeful that you will add more worthwhile points, and a variety of topics.
Ismail Wahba, Gaza

Can anyone explain why the camera zooms in on Alan Milburn every time Ann Widdecombe is speaking (showing him smirking, shaking his head etc)?
June Jack, Livingston

How come Ann Widdecombe is such an expert on foot-and-mouth disease, is this because she often puts her foot in her mouth?
Kim Osborne, London

Question Time should not involve the comments of obviously politically biased journalists, intent on supporting political parties. The panellists should be there to debate - not prop up - ailing political parties.
Craig Cusack, London

Tonight's show was the best for some time - well done to all.
Mr Beverley William Ley, Paignton, South Devon

Michael Gove's comments were succinct, unemotional and cut to the heart of the questions. If politicians in general displayed a fraction of his economy of expression of rational thought, we would all be much the better for it.
Art Howe

Having attended the debate in Exeter and just watched the programme from Leeds I felt it unfortunate that the content was almost identical. Surely with the health minister present it could have been possible to concentrate on 'elderly health' issues particularly with the present acute problem with bed blocking and care home closures. Also, please can you transmit at an earlier time?!
MK West, East Budleigh, Devon

If you must invite Ann Widdecombe on to the programme, for the sake of the viewing public, please ensure she behaves herself in future.
Liam Copsey

Despite being the opposition, once again the panel was loaded against the Tory speakers by three to two.
AS Makin, Hull, E Riding

Question Time is always interesting, but tonight's programme was ruined by the incessant yelping interjections of Ms Widdecombe, who prevented many, many points from being properly heard. I am sorry Mr Dimbleby has not devised some discreet way of obliging this panellist to give the other speakers the courtesy which, I noticed, they largely accorded to her.
B Smith, Scotland

I think the last question was totally out of order, and should not have been called.
Lester Bennett, Winchester

Thank goodness for Michael Gove who spoke articulately and obviously after thinking! The rest of the panel seemed embarrassingly out of control and muddled between questions. Really there was no rousing debate on any of the subjects. Oh dear, perhaps that's just an example of the state of this poor old country. In a serious muddle. Whatever happened to careful thought and then deliberate expression of that thought?
Kate, Wykeham

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