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Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
April 4, London
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The topics discussed this week were:

Should Bush apologise to the Chinese government?

Audience question: Should George Bush apologise to the Chinese government for the collision between the US spy plane and the Chinese jet? You said:

The crew of the US plane are effectively spies. China should not return them to the US but instead put them on trial as spies and hand out the appropriate sentence.
N Akram, London

I would argue that if the US are spying on the Chinese and gaining valuable intelligence information, then it would be hypocrital of them to say that the Chinese have no right to board and inspect what is on that plane because they are worried about the knowledge the Chinese might gain.
Gordon Mcphlaffel, London

I feel that President Bush is handling the whole incident with a striking lack of grace. Even though the Americans are adamant in saying that they were within an international flying zone, the fact is that they were spying on the Chinese. It is fitting that George Bush apologises for the incident or is he too big a man to do so! I also believe that in reversed roles the Americans would also demand the same.
Florence Upkabi, Canterbury

Britain's so-called `special relationship' with the US ties the British government to US military plans and US economic and foreign policy. As for civil rights, the US has six times the number of prisoners per population than this country, while the election showed us that while in Florida hundreds of thousands of adults (mostly black) are disenfranchised under the unjust felony rule, many thousands more had no vote because the private company that drew up the list could not be bothered to check the names properly. Time to get out of this `relationship' NOW!
Stewart Crehan, Alsager

How can we crictise the intellectual capability of George W Bush. While he may not be the strongest academic, surely our very own "Two Jags" John Prescott scoops the award for the "Intellectual Pygmy" of the year.
Edward Barham, London

How can Mr Kevin Willis outrightly blame the Chinese pilot? Study the photos, there was no head-on collision, and the dead pilot just got too close. Turbulence would be high at such close quarters, and the result was an accident, to be expected when war games are played.
Alan Foster

George Bush and the rest of us know that this is a test of his mettle, remember the U2 spy plane incident.? This will go on for quite a while yet, and gives the Chinese the chance to have a good go at the USA over Taiwan, and that's the big issue. A wait and see, cat and mouse game with lots of sabre rattling, which is going to test George Bush to the utmost.
Alan R Foster, Bishops Waltham, Hants

Now is the time for the collective power of the European Union to be used to force the United States and its terrible leader, Mr Bush, into resigning the broken Kyoto Protocol. The European Union is the largest industrial consumer economy in the world yet the European Union creates less pollution than the United States. If the United States is willing to destroy the planet which Europe discovered and colonised then we should be prepared to use whatever means available to prevent such pollution and destruction.
James Rogers, Norwich

The behaviour of the Chinese should be applauded. China are within their rights to make use of this situation for their own ends and whilst an American apology might not be necessary, Bush needs to realise that he can't intimidate other countries into submission. Had China been flying spy planes along the US coast I'm sure Bush would have viewed that as a threat to security.
Ian McNally, Moreton, Wirral

What a shame we don't recognise a leader with some backbone like George Walker Bush. We could use him here! I'm fed up with our politicians avoiding issues by attacking each other - when will any of them actually have something of their own to say? At least Bush is his own man!
Jaclyn Horrod, Dartford

How can the Chinese demand an apology when they are clearly at fault? A fighter plane travels at more than twice the speed of an ageing turboprop aircraft therefore only one aircraft is responsible for the incident bearing in mind the speeds involved. The US pilot had no possible chance to avoid the collision, so why does it take so much trouble for the Chinese to tell the truth and own up to their pilot's mistake.
Kevin Willis, Cheltenham

Bush was ill-advised to use this spy issue to display political machismo. He would show greater vision and foresight by dealing in an inclusive way with China and not with isolationist and competitive rhetoric.
Andy Atkins, Birmingham

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Politicians and the media responsible for racism against asylum seekers?

Audience question: In light of the Council of Europe's report on racism and intolerance do the panel agree that politicians and the media are responsible for racist attitudes and treatment particularly of asylum seekers? You said:

If we go by what you say, James George, we wont find racism unless we look for it, right? OK, so if I see asylum seekers being taunted and perhaps assaulted, if I turn and look the other way that means it wont be there? Get real!
Michael Forbes, Newcastle

Open your eyes Nita Johnson of Springbourne! More people are leaving the country than entering each year! The NHS is disintegrating because we NEED people - where asylum seekers have the required skills, let them have the jobs and make a contribution!!! Isn't it obvious?
Rosa, Birmingham

I agree with Rosa of Birmingham and would further add that since most asylum seekers have to pay large sums of money to get here, it is likely that they are the more well off and skilled section of the population, and therefore are most likely to have skills to offer this society.
Stephen, Bath

You know, PC Fenton, asylum is actually a human right! And Britain is a signatory member of the UN convention on Human Rights. I am ashamed to have you as a Police Constable representing our laws when you don't even know them!
William Hall, Bedfordshire

Eileen North, the Home Office's OWN statistics show that 90-95% of claims for asylum are reasonable.
Alex Candice, Manchester

The thing I find most frightening about the asylum situation is the way people have been effectivly gagged on this issue. Britain is a democratic nation - we have a right to freedom of speech and a rational debate on this issue. The problem is that most politicians and newspaper editors are out of touch with reality. The lady at the back of the audience who said we should begin from a point of acceptance that Britain is a racist country is the real racist. Having travelled a great deal in my lifetime I know that we Britons are probably the most tolerant race on earth.
Clive Lindley, Halifax

Words fail me. How can a supposedly educated woman such as Janet Street-Porter say this is not an overcrowded country. The facts (true facts not politically twisted ones) are quite clear. The UK is among the top few nations on earth in terms of population per square mile. I believe the figure is somewhere in the region of 630 per sq mile. Compare that to the USA which is around 73 or France which is about 270. We are overcrowded or does she not ever go out in towns and on the roads.
Keith Pearson, Gloucester

I welcome most immigrants and am pleased that they choose our country and escape the tyrannies of their own. If any are returned I would like to add a few high-minded racialists to the list.
Steve Lill, Bedford

In response to some of the other comments. I think Britain is racist. Should I be sent back to England? I do think we should celebrate St George's day although we'll probably have to do it by eating pasta because I believe he was Italian. Also if the white male has so much to contribute to the state why do they need benefits or help with housing? On a more serious note it's wrong to assume that we take more asylum seekers than anywhere else.
Carolyn Crampin, London

I'm always amazed by the phenomenon of racism in this country, which now seems to be working more against white, British people than those from ethnic minorities. People who are British are being refused jobs on the basis of their skin colour in the name of 'equal opportunities'. I recently saw a recruitment advertisment for the police for an open day purely for ethnic minority groups. If an open day was held for white applicants only I would hate to think what the outcry would be.
Kate McPhillips, Leeds

The Home office virtually invites illegal immigrants to England by giving them more than double the money to live on as a senior citizen on Income Support. The woman in the back row of the audience who works with asylum seekers is on to a nice little earner, in company with many other people such as immigration solicitors etc taking an enormous amount of money out of the system. It is now at least 3m a day, which is indefensible.
Eileen North, Winslow

Four members of the European Commission against racism spent four days here, met with biased groups with their own agenda and went sightseeing before heading back on their self-important gravy train. Take a good look around at the world we live in and you will soon see this nation is the most racially tolerant in the world bar none. England has taken in and absorbed far more immigrants than any other European country over the past hundred years. I do not see many wishing to leave in fear of racism do you?
Lance Deveroux, Haringey, London

More of Roger Scruton please. Quiet, pithy, with facts not political or media point scoring. His observations abut this over-populated land are backed up by the available facts AND a quick comparison with our nearest neighbour - France, a country with approx. the same population on THREE times the space! And the figures for the future housing were officially shown to include immigration - albeit belatedly!
Mark Newberry, London

Unfortunately you get racist people in all societies. But I am fed up with people judging this country as if it were a hotbed of xenophobes and racists. The problem is, racism can be found if you are trying to find it. Isn't it racist to call the UK a racist country? Isn't that inciting racial hatred? Who are the racists here?
James George, Newcastle

I would like to address a question to the woman in the audience who stated that Britain must start from a standpoint of being a racist nation. Does she therefore, believe that all British whites are racist? If so, then isn't that ... um, racist?
Cathy, London

I think it is incredible that when the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties accuse the Conservatives of racism they don t look in the mirror. The devolution legislation for Scotalnd, Wales, and Northern Ireland which they championed are blatant forms of institutional racism - power devolved on the basis of ethnic identity! What makes this worse of course is the people of England are not recognised at all in the constitution, and were not consulted about the changes.
Keith Francis, Desborough

As the name suggests, I am not totally 'English'. However, my father's family came over from Spain in 1250, importing iron ore, and my mother's family were Huguenots who came over in 1650. I am probably more 'English' than most are in England, for if we were to trace our family trees we will probably find most of us have been immigrants at one time or another. It is the strength of a country to be able to take in the needy and the abused.
Phaedra Ppamphilon-Green, Hornchurch

I still think regardless of the demographics of the nation, this is still an island that is too densely populated.
David Llewellyn, Stockport

Does Janet Street-Porter really think that racist jokes are only passed on in the north? Is she saying that the north is a hotbed of racists and that it happens nowhere else in the country? She should be ashamed of herself to accuse us in such a way. No wonder that there is perceived to be a North/South divide.
Charlie Burns, York

It is always refreshing to hear a different point of view on a subject, but I swear I heard an almighty groan go up from the viewing public when Simon Hughes expressed his sickly sweet opinion as to why asylum seekers wish to come to this successful country.
L McQueen, Newbury

I am an Afghan asylum seeker, but the reason why Britain is the focus for asylum seekers is because they get away with anything they say in their first interview on their arrival. I know so many other people of different nationalities who claim to be Afghan and are using the situation in Afghanistan to seek asylum, even though they are not from Afghanistan.
Mr Usman, London

I watched your programme with dismay! If asylum seekers think that the UK is such a racist country why are they trying to come here in there 1000's.
SR Wilson, London

Laws are generally made out of necessity rather than choice... The Race Relations Act has now been in force since November 1976. It is a damning indictment that in 2001 a representative of the European Commission has cause to comment on the level of racism that exists in Britain today.
"Captain Equality", Orpington

We are of the opinion that the individuals who make up the UK are aware of the needs of asylum seekers but that sensible restrictions should be in place to regulate the way in which this is handled. Political correctness today seems to be stifling the freedom to debate this important issue with any real honesty.
Kim Crawford, Askwith

It is about time the politicians stopped being afraid and told the truth about asylum seekers, and let an open debate take place. As for the people complaining about Britain being racist, if they don't like it let them go back to their country of origin.
PC Fenton, Shafton

Roger Scruton, 'esteemed' philosopher, recipient of the best education money can buy... Then says that because there is a LACK OF HOUSING that is indicative of OVERCROWDING. This beggars belief!
Benjamin Mackie, London

I feel that the whole thing is being laid upon us to be responsible for a problem that pervades Europe. I think that if a person is really seeking release from oppression then they will stop at the first country that is engaged in the treaty of human rights rather than making their way across many developed countries to seek asylum in a country that they see as an easy touch.
Richard B-R, Braintree

Have I missed the whole definition of 'racism'? How many races are there? Do we mean colours, shades, countries, areas, counties, towns...etc? Help I'm a racist.
Darryl, Brighton

It is possible to be strenuously opposed to taking in more asylum seekers without being either xenophobic or racist, and I am somewhat tired of politicians and media 'personalities' accusing everyone who feels the same as racists. Those fortunate enough to receive six figure salaries do not suffer hardships caused by NHS waiting lists, inadequate housing, under-funding of the police force and a welfare system and social infrastructure that is disintegrating around them - they can afford private medical care and several homes.
Nita Johnson, Springbourne

We should celebrate multi-cultural Britain. However when someone wants to celebrate St George's Day they are called a racist! PC liberals have got this country scared, scared to have pride in their land. It is now racist to class yourself as English, which I am!
Stephen Vincent, Enfield

I am amazed how the UK is perceived as a racist society. From my experience the most discriminated against section of society, who receive no benefits, no housing help, no help in any form whatsoever, and are indeed at the bottom of the state pile...but who support it the the single white male!
Kevan Reade, Nantwich

I agree with Simon Hughes, that a lot of the reaction against asylum seekers is racist. You only have to go to Australia, South Africa, Canada, and the USA to see all the white economic immigrants. I thought we would have left all this behind us last century, when it was OK for 'whites' to go and stay anywhere they like, but if you have dark skin then stay where you are.
Everton Elliott, Harrow, London

The vast majority of people are not racist, they just cannot understand why genuine asylum seekers pass through other "safe" countries desperate to get to the UK. Being taken for a ride generates resentment of the principle of rightfully accepting our share of people genuinely needing our help.
Mark Milkins, Pembroke

I know a lady who works at a hospital in Margate, Kent. Asylum seekers regularly get treatment whilst people who have lived here all their lives wait on long lists. Where's the freedom of speech this country so loudly vaunts as being part of the wonderful things about Britain? Is it any wonder many of us are sick to death of asylum seekers?
Sharon Willis, Swindon, Wiltshire

David Willetts is trying to defend the indefensible. His leader William Hague made a xenophobic speech in Harrogate, has he forgotten? John Townend should have had the whip withdrawn from him and it is an absolute disgrace that he has not, shame on the Tory party. Street-Porter, Hughes and Byers are 100% correct and thank God we have people like them in the public eye.
Elaine Dower, Bedfordshire

Janet Street-Porter has just suggested that comedians in the clubs in the north make racist comments. As a northerner living in the south I PROTEST her comments are racist. Equally I have heard just as many racist comments made by southerners.
AL Davidson

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Country before politics?

Audience question: In view of the postponement of the local elections does the panel agree that for once the government is putting the country before party politics? You said:

Country before politics - do me a favour! If Blair was putting his country first, he woud have laid down the objectives that the foot-and-mouth crisis would have to meet before an election could go ahead and he would have also involved parliament more than he did in this constitutionally huge decision.
Alexander Brodkin, Edgware

I beleive that Mr Blair's decision to postpone the election was justified and correct and I am fully support the move.
Mubashir Malik, Northwood, Middlesex

If you want to talk about racism, let's talk about Tony Blair's attitude to the foot-and-mouth outbreak. He does not need the votes from Cumbria and Devon to be re-elected, and so what he has done to help the tourist industry (the mainstay of these two counties) is precisely nothing. The population of these two counties feel completely disenfranchised by the policies of the present government.
John Roberts, Newton Abbot

I am not trying to be alarmist, but as I am married to a farmer in an, as yet, unaffected area, I think it would be irresponsible to encourage the general population (from either affected or unaffected areas) to roam freely about the countryside. As my husband commented to me earlier - this government is carrying out a very dangerous experiment - it will either win them the election or wipe them out with the farmers.
Sue Ringer, Kings Lynn, Norfolk

Tony Blair was quite right to delay the local elections to concentrate on the elimination of foot-and-mouth for the benefit of all the nation in the long term.
Arthur Wilkins, Burnley

I have not gone out of my way, by any means, to find out 'actual' details of the foot-and-mouth outbreak but am astonished at how little 'real' reliable information has been broadcast or printed. Contrast this with some other 'news' stories that are rammed down the public's throats. I may very well not understand the intricacies of the disease but wish there were more balance with news in general. I know when the election does take place analysis and statistics will be flowing without much time to even breathe between bulletins etc.
Ian Legge, Birkenhead

I am disgusted that Tony Blair sees fit to delay the local elections after polling cards have been sent out wasting even more tax payers' money.
Jeremy, Farnborough, Hants

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PM right to encourage visits to the countryside?

Audience question: Does the panel think that the prime minister is right to encourage visits to the countryside before the foot-and-mouth crisis is under control? You said:

A person apparently called Mr Scruton made the statement referring to foot-and-mouth that he and his neighbours had to "wash our wellingtons in Jeyes Fluid". Jeyes Fluid is a disinfectant and therefore is not effective against a virus. It is NOT on the list of disinfectants effective against foot-and-mouth.
John H Barham

Janet Street-Porter's comments about the risk of human influenced spread of foot-and-mouth disease were outrageous. Please tell her to at least get her facts right before she speaks out on your programme in future. Miss Street-Porter, as you said you are a journalist, you are not a veterinary sugeon.
Dan Halliday, Wantage

I cannot believe what I've just heard Janet Street-Porter say about foot-and-mouth - she should really learn to control herself and her mouth! I did admire her until now? We here in Ireland for the first time in my history cancelled our St Patricks Day parades. We have been dipping and cleaning our feet and cars in the disenfectant recommended by our vets and government to keep foot-and-mouth at bay. How dare she presume it's wind spread.
Mary Loughran, Drogheda

I am amazed that Janet Street-Porter can go on public television and give an opinion that there is no possibility whatsoever that foot-and-mouth disease can be transmitted by humans. If she is right, then the severe disruption to a great number of people's livelihoods is totally unjustified. If she is wrong, then she should be held to account for such a blatant public statement (which did not appear to be greatly repudiated by the panel, only by a member of the audience). Does she have any scientific basis whatsoever for her views?
Chris Woodward, Derby

I think all the access to the countryside should be out of bounds at the moment. Forget about money and custom, first thing we need to do is stop the spread!
Tim Mason, Manchester

Although I believe precautions should be made to stop foot-and-mouth, how far do we go? Rugby matches have been stopped to eliminate the disease being passed from the bottoms of shoes. But surely if this is going to happen the same should go for all football and other matches that are between nations.
Simon Lush, Norwich

Keeping away from the countryside reduces the likelihood of spreading foot-and-mouth. It's not for long, why can't people find something else to do instead? Surely the more people can do to help the better?
A Parrott, Llandudno

I do not think the countryside should be opened again, until foot-and-mouth is under control. I do wonder why people wish to visit the countryside with all the dead carcasses still lying in the fields where they were slaughtered.
Steve Fuller, Brighton and Hove

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What would you say if approached by a sheikh holding a glass of champagne?

Audience question: What would you say if you were approached by a sheikh holding a glass of champagne? You said:

I would ask the sheikh where he buys alcohol free champagne.
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

I think most business people realise that the Royal Family bring in far more money through tourism and international trade than they cost.
Paul Harris, London

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General comments on the programme:

I was amazed that there were another two questions on last night's programme related to foot-and-mouth, the farmers and the countryside. The second question in relation to access to the countryside was obviously raised by someone with total self-interest. I feel that the vast majority of the British public hope that the media are now ready to move on to more important issues both at home and abroad.
David Jones, Bridgwater

Come on BBC, get this programme back to its former glory and intelligent self. Go back to a manageable number of panellists (4), and let each of them answer the question before throwing it open to the audience.
M Young, Midhurst

This programme is so predictable - three politicians giving the party line on the current news. People like Janet Street-Porter and Roger Scruton are much more worth hearing whether one agrees with them or not. Surely Question Time could offer various opinions instead of these party political broadcasts - whether we are in election mode or not.
Barbara Charterton, London

I am becoming increasingly irritated by the rudeness of David Dimbleby in one respect in particular. Please, oh please, will someone tell him it is impolite to say the least, to refer to a lady in the audience as 'that woman in the back'. Surely, 'the lady in green' or whatever, would be much more polite and respectful. Otherwise, the programme is terrific and I shall miss it over the next couple of weeks.
Jennie Gatefield, Portugal

Could you please tell me why Mr Dimbleby continually interrupts Conservative panellists more than those from other parties?
Nic Holland, Preston

I am disgusted by the ignorant and insensitive comments voiced by Janet Street-Porter regarding the foot-and-mouth crisis. It is people like her that make many of us wonder whether your programme is worth watching. Surely you can find more informed people than she to make up your panel.
Janet Player, Weldon, Corby

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