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Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
May 10, London
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The topics discussed this week were:

Approve of use of school children to launch general election?

Audience question: Does the panel approve of school children being used to launch the general election? You said:

If I had been unfortunate enough to be one of those poor schoolgirls subjected to that blatant display of saccharin spin I would have taken great pleasure in walking out of the assembly - as noisily and as obviously as possible.
De, London

The prime minister's choice of location to announce the election is exactly the sort of thing needed to combat voter apathy. What a privilege to have the election called in your assembly! And what an insult to suggest that young people could be corrupted by party politics or don't understand tax policy!
Daniel, Sutton Coldfield

I am amazed at the chocolate box start to the general election by the Labour party. Is the next prime minister going to mis-use his position to announce policy throughout his term of office?
Don C Wilkes, Looe

The prime minister spoke to children and announced the general election in a SHORT speech, these children will remember this for the rest of their lives and be able to relay it to their children. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this.
E Dower, Bedfordshire

Just thought I'd comment on the lady's view of basically why bother with the young children when they can't vote. I think it lends itself to the no money to education give it all to things that affect me way of thinking some people seem to have. I hope that such selfish thought keeps you warm at night!
Mike, Nottingham

John Redwood is going to make most people give up listening if this is the sort of cheap shot he or any other MP is going to make during this election. I for one am interested in the real issues.
Mark Wortley, Bournemouth

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Conservatives afraid of euro referendum?

Audience question: Why are the Conservatives so afraid of a referendum on the euro in the next parliament? You said:

If the five tests are met, surely, in the interests of the country a decision should be made by the government to join the euro. If the people vote no, will this be final and binding? Or will it simply allow Labour to blame the voters if things get tough. We need leadership, and agree or not, at least the Tories have had the courage to nail their colours to the mast.
Albert Wright, Wellingborough

Margaret Becket waffled about the five points. One was the convergence of the UK and European trade cycles. They have always been divergent. Should they happen to converge at any point it is economic madness to consider that they will thereafter run in parallel. When will we have a politician, of whatever party, who will discuss joining the euro for what it is - a constitutional and not an economic question.
Hugh George, Kenley

John Redwood appears confused about why we should have a referendum on joining the euro. I am not sure about the euro, I am sure I don't want to vote for a Tory government. With the promise of a referendum I can vote for a Labour government and still, if I so wish, vote against signing up for the euro. In a referendum my vote either way will count as much as anyone else's. Voting to 'keep the pound' is (thankfully) not going to have much effect where I live.
Dan Mason, Liverpool

The most important issue in this election should be whether or not we wish to have a government with the powers to pass legislation without it being undermined or overturned by the European courts. If we lose our pound, our independent armed forces and the right to govern ourselves we will cease to be a nation.
Mike AR Powell, Chatham

John Redwood's appearance on the programme illustrated just how confused the Tory 'eurosceptics' are. 'In Europe, but not run by Europe' is as absurd as saying 'in a gas chamber, but not inhaling'. The Tory position on Europe is pathetic. It deserves the contempt of everyone who favours an independent future for the UK - outside the European Union.
Barney Smith, Cambridge

The quicker we get the euro out of the way the better. The majority of people do not want it and all politicians must get it in their heads and accept it. Strange we never get reports from any countries how they are coping with it, unless of course you are Spanish and they do their usual and take no notice of the EEC which is the best option.
Philip Booth, Pontefract

If Britain cannot be successful outside the euro zone according to Beckett, Toynbee et al, how can they explain the economic success of Canada which whilst within the dollar sphere of influence has managed to retain fiscal independence.
T Huggan, Nottingham

If the UK currency were now in euros, would items/goods priced in euros be the same price in the UK as other EU countries. If not what would be the advantage of changing pounds to euros.
Paul B Gentry, Yeovil

The prime minister has made a commitment to hold a referendum on entry into the euro within the next two years. We are also told that this will be done when the economic tests say that this is the right time. Therefore, we must conclude that he believes that these conditions will be met shortly, or possibly, that they have already been met. So the reality is that he plans to take us into the euro, but because of its present unpopularity, won't tell us this with an election pending in case it costs a few votes.
John Smith, Lincoln

I think John Redwood is badly misinformed. Either that or his arrogance is immeasurable (strangely enough I suspect the latter). In saying that he believes that being British is more important than future global economic policy he gives clear indication of the main reason that his party should not be allowed to make that economic decision on their own.
James Parker, Winchester

Surely it is the right of the PUBLIC to decide what to do with the currency unit? Maybe when the time occurs, there should be a "For and Against" debate, to let the British people decide what to do with OUR currency.
Chris Haynes, Kettering

Margaret Beckett is talking about the five tests. If the Labour party is so sure they know best, why not test the reaction of the people NOW, before asking companies, large and small to prepare for the euro. It is not only this country where a referendum should be held - in the rest of Europe no one has the right to say no to the euro.
Ursula Breadmore, Chatteris, Cambs

The Tory 'Keep the Pound' campaign is a con trick and does not take into account the possible effect on jobs and investment if Britain stays aloof from Europe. Labour offers the best option in recognising the need for an informed debate on the pros and cons of joining the single currency and then giving the British people a choice in a national referendum.
John Fletcher, St Leonards-on-Sea

I am from the Netherlands and I have to say that in general the people here do not want the euro. But the discussion I see in your programme, makes me wonder why the British seem to be so afraid of Europe. Like we say - it is an island! We live in a democracy and that means that not everyone gets there way.
Egbert van den Bosch-Luthart, Ouderkerk aan den IJssel

I'm curious as to why the Tory party are making such a big deal about 'a vote for Labour is a vote to scrap the pound' when it seems quite clear that a referendum is a vote to scrap the pound. This is a general election. Why does William Hague make such a big play about this? Does he really think that people who would vote against the euro in a referendum are stupid enough to confuse the two elections?
Franki, Manchester

When we eventually have a referendum on the euro could we also have an option to ditch the pound for US dollars as we are in essence the 51st state of America already.
John Bell, Sunderland

What a good straight answer to a question from John Redwood. If the British people want to keep the pound, you have got to vote for the Conservative party. Let's have more good straight answers to questions during this election campaign.
Steve Fuller, Brighton and Hove

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UK need 6p cut in petrol price?

Audience question: Does the UK need a 6p cut in the price of petrol? You said:

I agree with furious motorist of Cambridge! Dr Tongue conveniently overlooked recent evidence that cleaner and more efficient car engines mean 10 modern cars emit less noxious fumes and pollutants than one lawn mower. Please help rural areas, we need this cut in fuel tax.
Janis, Tunbridge Wells

The Tories once again prove they will say anything to desparately gain votes. How does this cynical move square with environmental issues let alone common sense. This government has put less percentage increase on fuel per year than the Tories did!
Adrian, Doncaster

Dr Mark Milkins. I don't know what you are a doctor in, but if you did some research you would find that actually the price of petrol is linked with car usage - high price at the pump equals less frivolous use. It's that simple.
Thomas, Exeter

In a just society, it is our moral duty to pay a sufficient amount of tax to ensure that our public sevices are maintained to the highest standards possible. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to recognise the fact that you can't lower taxes and raise public spending at the same time. People must realise that if you cut the amount of tax on fuel, other taxes must go up, so we are no better off. But I fear that many people will be taken in by these ridiculous Tory promises only to end up disappointed, just like the 1992 election.
Ceri John, Burry Port, Carmarthenshire

I am fed up with the constant use of the vehicle as a cause of pollution and the high tax as a solution. The pollution from industry and power stations is by far the biggest cause of pollution, with pollution from vehicles being a very small percentage. Also fuel tax was supposed to be ring-fenced according to Labour to pay for better public transport and road improvements but now pays for everything from education through to pensions. Stop trying to blackmail the public into accepting high levels of fuel tax!
Furious Motorist, Cambridge

If you don't care about people dying on trolleys, old and disabled people imprisoned in their homes without support or children leading a life of crime on the streets, then vote for the Tories 6p petrol decrease and referendums on council tax increases. A great and civilised country puts compassion above greed.
Mark Lemmer, Honiton

John Redwood was referring to "doing the weekly shop on a bus." It is possible to do the shop without using a car or public transport. There are supermarkets which will deliver your purchases. I am sure that these vehicles use a lot less fuel than private cars, especially if they deliver to five to nine houses at a time.
Terry Dickinson, Basingstoke

Has the extra tax monies raised on fuel reduced people's use of their cars? I don't think so! Has the money been invested in better public transport? I don't think so!
Dr Mark Milkins, Neyland, Pembs

Jenny Tongue said that she always does her shopping in the village shop. She is lucky, my nearest shop is over three miles away. Has she forgotten that in the last three or four years a lot of village shops have closed.
J Mitchell, Wiltshire

Is it not fair to say that the government is responsible for making decisions on our future, for the best interests of the public? This might not necessarily be what some people want at this moment in time, but we need to look beyond our own front doorsteps and stop being so selfish! The example is obviously the promised cut in fuel taxation.
Tim Fraser-Harris, Cambridge University

It is a fallacy for the Tories to promise a tax cut when they could not do it in 18 years. It is a re-hash of the republican policies minus the pregnant chads and dimples. It is irresponsible to raise the expectations of the public by making outrageous promises.
B Coker, London

Does John Redwood ever listen to himself when he speaks? His comments only make me think that the Conservatives do not understand the country at all and have no hope in winning a general election. His party's promises do not add up, even a child can see that you cannot make millions in tax cuts and increase public spending.
Claire, Manchester

Some people can't go shopping in local shops so they need their car so they can use the big supermarket. So I don't know what that woman is talking about.
Marceila, Catterick

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10,000 extra teachers sufficient?

Audience question: Are the 10,000 extra teachers pledged yesterday by the prime minister really sufficient to provide a first class education for all? You said:

Chris Woodhead was spot on with his analysis. It's a shame that the noisiest extrovert teacher always gets to give their unrepresentative opinion as happened on your show tonight. I will be leaving the profession after 8 years as a teacher of mathematics because of the disruptive students and the paperwork.
Anthony, Chatham

I want to thank the lady in the audience who referred to morale in higher education. As an HE academic in England and Scotland for some 25+ years, I can support her statement about the lack of morale there too. And not helped by silly pay rises offered. Who will enter HE now?
Janet Brand, Glasgow

Teaching is no longer a vocation. It is a profession, and should be evaluated and remunerated as such. This demands both political and professional courage of which neither the teachers' unions nor successive governments have yet given evidence. Secondly, a secondary school is a large organisation, yet we still try to manage it on a part-time basis with part-time support staff. Until this anomaly is addressed, the teachers' administrative burdens will not reduce.
A McCallion, Baldock, Hertfordshire

Whilst I think that we still have a long way to go, there has definitely been some real improvement in class sizes and therefore quality of education in my experience. I have always been a strong supporter of the state system, but was wresting with my conscience and considering private education following the disastrous Tory years. Now I feel that I can again rely on the state system.
Julie Wake, Newcastle upon Tyne

John Redwood was, as expected, criticising the government over it's handling of education. However, he failed to give any concrete suggestions as to what his party would actually do to rectify the problems in our education system!
Daniel, Sutton Coldfield

10,000 teachers won't make a difference and cannot put right the wrong made by Chris Woodhead. He has made teaching an uncomfortable profession by introducing institutional witch-hunting - when he should have been seeking to improve the teaching skills of those he does and doesn't want to throw out.
Steve Hemingway, Bournemouth

John Redwood has the barefaced cheek to decry the Labour government's record on education. When his party was in power parents had to club together financially to buy school text books for their children, and the newspapers daily showed pictures of schools falling to pieces through decay and rot.
G Williams, Manchester

Having spent five years in part time undergraduate education at the University of Leeds, I find it difficult to appreciate that a problem in teacher morale exists. I have found the teaching staff to be highly supportive and the quality of course content delivered to be excellent. People will learn if they want to learn and therefore teachers' morale should not be judged on the failings of those who do not want to learn.
Lee, Leeds

Some would consider poor parenting skills to be one of the main problems confronting teachers today. If the parents have no respect for the institution of education, how can we expect their children to?
Jen, Manchester

Under Labour we have teacher shortages because there are not enough to go around and that is a direct result of the Tories CUTTING teacher training places. It is hardly rocket science to work out why there is a shortage now.
E Spinks, Luton

Chris Woodhead is entirely correct in what he said about disruptive children in classrooms. I received an excellent primary education and for the last three years (age 8-11, 1962-65) was in a class of 53 children. The difference was that we knew that we were at school to learn, and how to behave ourselves. Parents must take some responsibility for the behaviour of their children.
Mary Clarke, London

There would be a far less severe teacher shortage if schools utilised the army of experienced, part-time teachers at the top of the scale who find it extremely difficult to find permanent work because so many schools will only consider full time staff or NQT's at the very bottom of the pay scale.
Sue Muswell, London

I quite agree with one of Chris Woodhead's points. There is too much red tape and paper work in the teaching profession. It seems to me after doing all of the paperwork they have to do, in their spare time they teach.
Steve Fuller, Brighton and Hove

The problem with the higher education system is the tuition fees. There are enough costs in the first place without that extra 1100 a year! No wonder there is a shortage of teachers! No one can afford to go to university, unless you are rich or get into tons of debt!
Jack O'Harlan, Pendlebury, Manchester

When, oh when, is it going to be realised that our educational problems are not political, financial, or even educational? The simple fact of the matter is that any society gets the schools it deserves!
John Melia, Southport

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Leaders debate help to overcome voter apathy?

Audience question: Would a live televised debate between the main party leaders be helpful in overcoming voter apathy? You said:

I don't think you can accuse the Conservatives of putting a gloss on the truth or being corrupt can you? So why the apathy?
Ian Brealey, Northampton

Well said Steve P from Exeter. We cannot vote for the real people who rule our lives, the big companies, so why vote for their spokesmen, our so called representatives. I will vote, but will write across my ballot paper, none of the above.
Steve, Blackpool

Live debate! What are we deciding on, peronalities or policies. Surely reading newspapers, watching TV and studying manifestoes in a considerd way is the course of action that should be encouraged rather than an American style media circus.
Adrian, Doncaster

I`d be all in favour of compulsory voting provided there was a box to tick for "None of the above".
W Stuart, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

I am not apathetic. I would love to have a party/candidate I could enthusiastically endorse. Unfortunately there is no-one who fulfills this criterion. The politicians of today have lost all credibility.
Mary Kallagher, King's Lynn

The pretty girl who suggested that we made voting compulsory to overcome voter apathy made a good point. We have made it mandatory by law to fill out our census forms with a 1000 penalty for not complying. Surley a high election vote turnout is more important than a head count?
Aaron, Land that politicians forgot

Having a debate on TV would serve only to allow them to sling more mud at each other but in front of a wider audience. Having them debate with each other to audiences around the country live [ie campaigning in the same towns at the same time] would be a more effective response, but the likelihood of them agreeing where to go counts that out!
Douglas Gilmour, St Andrews, Fife

The pre-programmmed responses to questions that politicians give are one of the chief reasons for peoples apathy. Politicians appear to be incapable of admitting errors. The intelligent comments of the majority of the panellists outside the parties is like a breath of fresh air.
Bernie, Cranfield

I feel a live debate between the party leaders would be an interesting alternative to typical election campaining. The only real underlying problem is the attendance of Mr Blair, who I believe would be scared to attend such a debate in the fear of saying something that couldn't be spun.
Calum Mair, Aberdeen

To combat voter apathy give us a party worth voting for.
Stephen, Sheffield

Doesn't apathy mean that everything is okay? The main ingredient for political turmoil has been poverty or hunger. Face it, in world terms the UK is doing very well. Isn't it time we started to think about the rest of the world?
Chris Speck, Hull

Margaret Beckett's comment that there would be no point in having a TV debate between the party leaders was obviously so rehearsed, it could have come from Tony Blair's mouth.
James Ridgway, Rochester

A debate between Hague and Blair is an integral part of the modern democratic process.
Hamish Michie, Botlon

Voter apathy will only be solved by complete and total openness and honesty by politicians which just proves that democracy has never and will NEVER EVER HAPPEN.
Mark Wood, Plymouth

Voter apathy is a misnomer. Voter disgust is probably a more accurate description. The so-called electorate are more switched on these days, are more perceptive of the spin and rhetoric of politicians from ALL parties! The corruption is virtually transparent, the power of the transnational corporations almost unassailable and the media unable or unwilling to provide REAL debate about our political system, accountability and, ultimately, its integrity.
Steve P, Exeter

There is much said about voter apathy. It's not apathy, it's cynicism. Politicians just come out with the same inane nonsense and lies, time after time. The people don't trust politicians. Now that the rest of the world has entered the 21st century, it's time to replace politics as the way of running the world and give the world back to the people. We were here first!
David Stevenson, Crawley

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General comments on the programme:

Watching the programme last night, and in particular the "debate" about the first question confirmed for me both why politics is not taken seriously by many in this country and why I shall be unlikely to vote. Is it really a serious issue that the PM, as any politician, "used" an unsuitable setting to launch the election? Does that really matter? If it does then this surely reflects how much all those involved in the political process have frankly lost the plot.
Stephen Clayton, Colchester

Why not make this into a chat room - it would be much more entertaining.
Steve Burgess, Manchester

I find you are so biased towards the Labour party. You always question the Tories as you have tonight but never ever take the government representative to task.
James Dawkins, Nottingham

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