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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 13:40 GMT
November 8, Leicester
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The topics discussed this week were:

Acceptable to smack children?

Audience question: Do the panel think it's acceptable to smack children? You said:

Having brought up four children, I have learned that smacking is NOT effective and that for children to learn lessons for the future, they have to understand what they did wrong. I have found that it is very possible to reason with a child and that a child brought up in an atmosphere of mutual respect will be confident.
Louise, London

Why is it that so many people don't seem to be able to distinguish between reasonable physical punishment (for a proper reason and administered in the right spirit) from child abuse? The effects of the crazy libertarianism expounded by Claire Rayner are all too evident in today's society.
Jon, Caterham

I was smacked as a child and it has done me no harm. Lack of parental discipline plays a key role in the decline of social standards, rise in crime and lack of respect for other people. It seems Claire Rayner cannot tell the difference between smacking a child when it is misbehaving and beating it!
Eddie Akerman, Wiltshire

If I don't smack my son (who I love more than anything else in the world - including myself) then what is the supposed "creative" alternative? Imprisonment ("removing"), a barrage of sustained shouting (or ignored whisper), maybe some psychological punishment like threatening that a monster under the bed will creep out at night and get him if he doesn't behave? If you cannot use reason or logic in a given situation then a smack is quick and quickly over.
TP, Bridgwater

During the conversation on smacking, had the word "child" been replaced by the word "wife", a somewhat different view of "acceptable force" may have arisen. Why are children so devoid of basic human rights? And if I hear one more person say that being smacked did them no harm, I might be tempted to take them at their word! The emotional scar that is left is their belief that hitting their own children is a good idea.
K Lewis, Watford

Banning smacking of children is certainly taking matters to an extreme. I have been a single dad with three young children for over two years now and have discovered, through the usual trial and error process, that smacking simply does not work. Reasoning, loving, listening, on their level, works a whole lot better than trying to instil discipline through intimidation and fear. But then on the other hand the Bible does not chastise 'sparing the rod.' Has the Scottish parliament now taken over?
Maris Teteris, London

I refer to Mr MacShane's comments on his experiences at a Scottish primary school and his SWEEPING statement that possibly the Scottish Parliament has brought in the law to make it illegal to hit a child under the age of three as being us making up for the past. HOW DARE HE. If I were to slap Mr MacShane I would be arrested for ASSAULT. But were I to slap a child it would not be assault but disciplining a child. PLEASE. Children need more protection not less.
Kirsten, Glasgow

I would love there to be an unconditional ban on the smacking of children. Many (especially younger) parents could then be put into a difficult position and I believe before the complete ban could even be considered there should be a widely advertised system put into place designed to offer confidential advise on child management if requested.
Will Thomas, St Helens

Everyone has the right to both the love and the discipline of their parents. I feel pretty certain that it was the discipline I received from my parents that helped me to grow up into the law-abiding and respectful citizen that I now am. I thank God my parents had the courage to smack me when I deserved it.
Steven Hanwell, Northampton

For once I am wholeheartedly in agreement with Peter Hitchens. I retired from teaching a year ago and I know that indiscipline and violence have increased markedly in recent years, despite the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. There is virtually no respect for authority and some of the worst problems are created by youngsters whose parents have chosen to "reason with" their offspring (as recommended by Claire Rayner) rather than delivering a short sharp slap when it is needed.
Richard Saunders, Redditch

As much as I respect Clare Rayner, I am afraid she is wrong when it comes to smacking children. Peter Hitchens had it about right. To bring what happened to Victoria Climbie into the argument is puerile and of no relevance. What happened to that poor child was abuse short and simple - nothing at all to do with chastising a naughty child. A short sharp slap on the back of the thigh can work wonders for a child that is persistently disobedient.
Stuart Sutherland, Ellesmere Port

Hitting a child of any age is wrong. I am proud to say that my partner and I have never physically punished our five-year-old. We have found that creatively distracting our child when she is doing something that we consider is wrong, brings us closer together. I think a law should be passed to help parents to think twice before they physically abuse their children and hopefully prevent anymore deaths caused by physical abuse.
Peter Jarman, Bexley

Peter in Exeter re: your comment. It is terrible that you were hurt by the very people who should be protecting you, but what you suffered was abuse, not a simple smack. Your story should come as a warning to all those who care for children, to ensure their safety, but cannot be used as a reason to implement this legislation.
Michelle, London

After the frightful events in Dunblane the government foolishly thought that banning handguns would stop any further firearm incidents. This has since been proved to be wrong. Did tonight's panel seriously think that if smacking had been banned, that poor child would not have been beaten to death - or that it would stop similar incidents occurring in the future?
John Wilkinson, Dordogne, France

I find it difficult to believe that someone as educated as Claire Rayner can utter such unadulterated garbage regarding the smacking of children. There are occasions when a smack is the only sanction which does any good. We are seeing today the ill effects caused by parents who have never smacked their children, including my daughter - her children are unbelievably unruly, and I have great fears with regard to their future.
Robin Barber, Wisbech

I would like to how Claire Rayner explained who was 'the boss' and what punishment or 'sanction' would be applied if it did not involve chastisement of some sort.
Ian Stewart, Canterbury

Claire is smart enough to know how to punish her children, today unfortunately many parents don't understand how to effectively punish them. This means that there are those who understand the need to punish children by using smacking, and those who just can't punish their children. I think smacking is appropriate for parents who cannot punish by other means. I believe children going unpunished in the long run would be worse for society than the problems we currently have with smacking.
Mike, Nottingham

Of course we shouldn't smack children! In fact let's make it illegal and send all parents to jail! In short I believe that outlawing smacking is ridiculous. The argument that there is a fine line between discipline and abuse is symptomatic of a "nanny" society where we cannot rely on lawmakers and upholders to see the shades of grey between the black and white of this issue.
Michelle Lewis, London

A MEASURED smack on the backside will ALWAYS be more valuable than 10 minutes of reasoned Claire Rayner!
Richard Grenfell, LLandysul

When six months old I was severely hurt by my parents - I have never recovered.
Peter, Exeter

Exactly what sanctions does Claire Rayner think should be used? What about when there are few treats because money is so tight even with both parents working which is probably the heart of the problem.
Kathy Sawyer, Horsham

It is pain that teaches children to avoid hot things, to take care not to bump into sharp or hard things and to protect those parts of the body injured and damaged in some way. It strikes me therefore that pain is a vital part of learning to live safely, so why not utilise this natural learning mechanism to instil sociable behaviour into people?
John, Bristol

I have smacked my children in an as controlled and informed way as I brought them up - my son is now 22 and my daughter 15, both now absolutely wonderful people, and very grateful for appropriate discipline, balanced by total love of both my wife and myself. I would do it the same way if we started again. I believe it is the duty of a responsible, concerned and loving parent.
Jonathon Hemingray, Derby

Does Clare Rayner actually have any concept of reality? How does she expect us to control our children if they know that there is ultimately no control over them? Surely she must realise that if a parent gets arrested for smacking their child the child will possibly end up in care. What will this do for our society?
George, Dunstable

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Time for Stephen Byers to step down?

Audience question: In light of the latest revelation is it time for Stephen Byers to step down and apologise for the delay and any inconvenience he has caused? You said:

In my humble opinion, Stephen Byers should do the decent thing and resign. His actions were just an attempted show of bravery and toughness but he has watched hundreds of decent Railtrack shareholders take their dividends in the form of more shares instead of cash. He then nullified the value of these shares. He should have told the shareholders that he was going to take this action before he allowed them to buy more shares. The value of these shares must be refunded by the government and Stephen Byers must resign. David Willetts is absolutely correct.
Robbie Brown, Derby

Stephen Byers ought to give his resignation tonight - he has already had the full support of the PM, but then so did Alun Michael, Peter Mandelson and Geoffrey Robinson - therefore the writing must be on the wall for him.
Andrew Knight, London

I don't think he should resign until an independent body has determined whether he lied or whether he simply interpreted things differently. Who's to say the regulator and the ex-chair of Railtrack didn't just put their point of view!
Sarah Margaret, Newcastle upon Tyne

Would it seem too cynical to think that the motivation for Byers' 'get tough on Railtrack' deeds and throwing his weight about is an internal Labour party bid on moving up the waiting list as Blair's successor?
H Barney Miller, Brighton

It is without any doubt that Stephen Byers, who without question has lied to Parliament on two separate and unconnected occasions MUST resign and in the interest of preserving the credibility of our democratic system, the sooner the better.
Anthony Gemmill, Devizes

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Daisy cutter bomb a sign of desperation?

Audience question: Is the use of the daisy cutter bomb by the US a sign of desperation and therefore a tacit admission of the failure of the current bombing policy in Afghanistan? You said:

The USA should use what weapons it feels are necessary to defeat the Taleban, whether from the air or from the ground. America should be applauded for the way it has dealt with the Taleban and the terrorist network since the attacks on 11 September.
Giles, Shropshire

Claire Rayner commented "it was a war we could not win." I think she is right, this could be another Vietnam. History shows us that the Afghans are difficult people to defeat. The war against terrorism is ideological and we could end up alienating many Muslims.
Tim Davies, Solihull

Americans will fight till the last drop of blood as long as it's not American, rather than tacitly, or otherwise, admit failure. The increasingly fierce weapons are a louder and louder statement that they are still in business of wreaking revenge and havoc on the poor nation of Afghanistan.
Maggie Theroux, London

I am concerned that the desire for revenge and retaliation are outweighing a real strategy toward the eradication of terrorism. As a born and bred New Yorker, I keenly feel the effects of September 11. But having been to various war torn countries, and seen the effects of cold war politics and post-colonialism, it seems to me a new diplomatic tactic should be taken up, something almost like a Marshall Plan post World War II. A war that seems to have no real aims, and will just cause further division between East and West seems to me a continuation of the problem, rather than a solution.
Miles Roston, New York City

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PM concentrate more on affairs of state in Britain?

Audience question: Should the prime minister cease gallivanting around the world like a Bush puppet and concentrate more on the affairs of state in Britain? You said:

Should the PM concentrate more on matters at home? No! Foreign affairs, diplomacy, wars, are what governments should be for. It is when they try to interfere in the running of schools, hospitals, railways, visitor attractions etc etc that they cause trouble. If only the rest of the government could find something to keep them out of the country!
Alan Marshall, Southampton

Mr Blair is right to concentrate his time on the increasingly troublesome international situation. Yet I can't help but wonder why the clear-cut decisive action taken against the terrorists in the Middle East is not being taken with the terrorists who yet again tried to kill civilians on the streets of our second city, Birmingham. Is it one rule for Muslim terrorists and another for Christians, or is the threat of the 'Real' IRA too close to home?
Anthony, Birmingham, UK

In the current situation I believe Tony Blair has bitten of more than he can chew. There is a growing anti-war movement in this country which is questioning the hypocrisy of such politicians who support the production of weapons of mass destruction at home while criticising anyone in the third world holding them. I believe that Britain should totally reappraise its foreign policy and move away from US hegemony.
Patrick Hulme, Bristol

As a student at Birmingham university, I think it's great that we have a prime minister who is so dedicated to fighting terrorism over in Afghanistan, but ignores any form of terrorism on his own doorstep. The Real IRA bomb in Birmingham on Saturday night had the capacity to cause mass destruction and loss of life, yet it seems to have been swept under the carpet. Are we fighting terrorism or is this purely a revenge attack?
Kate Masterson, London

I was shocked to hear the criticism of Tony Blair's efforts in the events post Sept 11. Far from being the US foreign minister, he has given a lead to the US and is incredibly well thought of in the US. For me the exceptional thing about Mr Blair is the clarity with which he sees and explains the issues - he is in a unique position to do this as he is non-US and perceived to be an honest man. His humiliating visit to the Middle East was a triumph of humility as well as for dialogue over violence.
John Emberton, Croydon

How can it be that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with our American allies when in the last world war the US only came to our assistance when Pear Harbour was bombed and the final payment on the ships loaned to us will be made in 2012. What unbelievable hypocrisy! Tony Blair is only interested in his personal standing and has lost all sight of his elected role. Further more where is the united consensus?
Anthony Gemmill, Devizes

I'd just like to say, I'm proud of Tony Blair's actions during this time of crisis. We are a country at war following a massive attack on one of our closest allies, in which hundreds of our own citizens were killed. Mr Blair's actions are absolutely right. He is striving to hold together the international coalition while rightly reinforcing our continued support for America. The government can function perfectly well in his absence.
Tom, London

Of course we are not privy to the full information regarding the war on the Taleban, but the body language of Tony 'Bush' Blair is very frightening. He is loving every minute of the limelight which is shining on him. The population of this country should realise the danger we are facing if the current military tactics fail.
Mary Kallagher, King's Lynn

There is an argument that Mr Blair has in exchange for his active diplomacy restrained the hand of Mr Bush and carried the 'moral' argument to the world. However, the use of the abominable daisy cutter clearly dispels these myths and leaves one wondering how much influence we do have across the pond. If indeed our influence is limited to polite compliments from Mr Bush then the sight of Mr Blair acting as an American ambassador not only leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth but also adds credibility to the degrading of our sovereignty in the eyes of the world as well as our own.
Shia Ali, Bradford

Why is Tony Blair flying around the planet putting his life at risk while George Bush is at home throwing a baseball around?
David Willie, London

If Tony Blair does not try and do his bit in the war against terrorism, then maybe there won't be such things as a health service and schools and all the other things that we take for granted today. I feel we should be proud to see him trying to find a solution to this mess, and as the gentleman said earlier we should all stop acting like armchair generals.
Christine, St Helens

I would refer to a comment made by Claire Rayner, that I would rather we were a star on the American flag than one on that of Europe. At least America has already pursued the matter whereas Brussels would still be debating whether something had happened.
Martin Hughes, Croydon

I feel that Tony Blair should stop acting like a lackey of the US. Why has Bush not travelled to the UK or out of the States since the beginning of the troubles? Does he lack the courage to fly or see himself as a little emperor of the world unto whom all other leaders must report to? What is the relevance of the term 'shoulder to shoulder'? It's more like 'shoulder to heel' yap yap yap.
Lisa, Gosport

Although Tony Blair is to be very much admired for his great support of America in their time of need there are many problems in this country that need to be addressed. If terrorism is not defeated, we will continue to look over our shoulder, but we cannot do this on our own. Mr Blair has done enough travelling now, and should remain in this country to start putting some of our many problems right.
Steve Fuller, Brighton & Hove

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CSA's attempt to collect child support from a 15-year-old boy

Audience question: What are the panel's views with regard to the CSA's attempt to collect child support from a 15-year-old boy seduced by a 30-year-old woman? You said:

The views expressed were bordering on the ignorant. The CSA is the worst and most unjust peace of legislation ever implemented. It takes 30% of fathers' incomes, in some cases up to 70%. It should and must be abolished. It costs a fortune doesn't work and is totally unjust.
J Leahy, East London

To expect payments in retrospect is I agree an unrealistic and indeed unacceptable proposition, however, now that he is aware of the outcome of his 'mistake' he should bear the consequences. Were he a female who instead of being seduced had 'gone and gotten herself pregnant' there would be no comment from either the media or indeed the panellists and audience of Question Time.
Brenda Bodenham, Coleraine, N Ireland

I am a great believer in personal responsibility, but in this case the boy was SEDUCED. I wouldn't expect a woman who had been raped to be responsible for a child. Abortion is an option.
Ted Bishop, Bath

If it had been the other way round (30-yr-old man and 15-yr-old girl) which Claire Rayner suggests rightly is much more common, the girl would be left 'holding the baby' with all the consequences of that for her life - and there would be no public debate or outcry. It happens all the time. Why should girls have to take the consequences of their actions and not boys?
Erik Wilson, Middlesbrough

David Willetts' statement makes me wonder how much of a double standard there seems to be between the genders these days. If the roles were reversed, he would have been locked up, treated as some evil monster and put on a sex offenders register. That's the reality. It seems even children come second in victim status to women.
Julian Abbott, Didcot

How can any man be responsible for bringing a child into this world if that responsibility is taken away from him by the woman solely deciding whether or not to have the child without his feelings forming 50% of the decision?
Chris Maitland, Cambridge

During the CSA debate, no one blinked an eyelid when a member of the audience raised the point that the woman was not 30 years of age, as was stipulated, but was in fact 21. How used we have become to spin and mis-information.
J Thomas, Aberystwyth

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General comments on the programme:

I'm sorry, but this was even duller than recent programmes. What a colourless panel, and the usual waffle. Why can't you find panellists who people will listen to, and who will answer questions directly.
John, Dundee

Very lively show tonight - the best so far although some comments were rubbish.
Mr Beverley William Ley, Paignton, Devon

I find Claire Rayner beyond belief with her ridiculous ideas. This holier than thou attitude of hers really gets me and as for Peter Hitchens why does he have to act like a cantankerous old witch, always stirring things up. The world has moved on and he is trapped in a time warp.
B Borez, Orpington

Same old cant. Same old mix - this time particularly matey team of politicos and 'social commentators' agh! Lots of questions - too few answers.
David Watson, Reading

Please make the Labour minister stick to the point and stop waffling - he is very irritating and I would not want him representing me in Parliament because he doesn't listen.
Caroline Guerin, Devizes

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