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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 14:41 GMT
November 15, Norwich
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The topics discussed this week were:

Time for the wobblers to hang their heads in shame?

Audience question: The tactics used by US and UK forces have been vindicated. In the light of this success is it time for the wobblers to hang their heads in shame? You said:

Martin Burke, Burgess Hill: Western brutality to the region? Eh? Afgans have chosen to fight each other for the last couple of decades on their own with no help from Westerners. They choose not to farm and work, they choose to fight each other. If they put half as much energy into working the fields for crops as they do fighting, they would not need aid. The land is fertile, but they choose not to farm it.
Caroline, London

So far all that's been achieved is the toppling of a third world government and it would be fairly disturbing if the Americans hadn't achieved that given the comparative military resources, BUT that is only the first step. It may prove that in the long run this will make the elimination of terrorism easier/possible (by the elimination of a safe haven), but there is a long way to go yet before the total destruction of the Al Quaeda network and many years after that before we can know whether that has ended the threat or whether new groups will arise to take its place.
Tim Joseph, Oxford, UK

I don't think I wish to blame the US for the events of September 11th. Perhaps it is just that we have failed to listen to other views around the world. I just do not believe that you can bomb an idea out of existence. Tackle the roots of the problems essentially caused by rich nations preserving the wealth of a few by impoverishing the many. Throw in climatic changes caused by greenhouse gases and you have a potent and justified brew of hostility and anger at the conduct of the rich nations.
Anni Bales, London

If, against the odds, an action considered irresponsible by a critic turns out to have far better consequences than he warned of, that does not somehow invalidate the legitimacy of those fears or render the action retrospectively responsible. The most a critic need concede is that a bad decision turned out to have good consequences. I suspect this is part of the truth conveyed by that common charge, "benefit of hindsight". Moreover, for some, no future good can justify the killing of innocent civilians as a means, however unwanted those deaths.
MSA, London

It sickens me that anyone would suggest that our nation deserved what happened on 9-11, especially someone from the UK. Have we forgotten history? When the USA entered WWII, not only did we put hundreds of thousands of OUR citizens in danger to help protect the UK and liberate Europe, but we also made conquering the UK's enemy, Nazi Germany, a priority over conquering the nation that attacked us, Japan. It hurts to think that any of the British people would try to blame the USA for this ugliness.
Sean P Smith, Tampa, USA

Surely it's high time that we realise a life is a life. I find it horrifically disturbing that anyone could think that the death of a British person would be more important than the death of, say, an Egyptian, or Turk. It doesn't matter if that person was born in Britain, America or Afghanistan, whatever country or continent, a horrific death has still occurred, a life has still been lost, and we, as humans should all mourn.
Saran Fletcher, Welwyn Garden City

Why do people think that the current international situation started with events on September 11th when that is quite clearly not the case? The al-Qaeda network is just one result of western brutality to the region. If Bin Laden falls, he will be replaced again and again until the root of the hatred of the western world in that region is resolved.
Martin Burke, Burgess Hill

What is the British interest in this campaign? 10 Downing Street was not bombed, the British were not directly attacked. Why are they the first to risk their lives in Afghanistan? Are there interests beyond the "rooting out terrorists" excuse we are all being given?
Otieno Jakot, Minnesota, USA

What is the biggest war to fight - poverty or terrorism? Isn't one a consequence of the other? Isn't it about time to think about better ways to help the poor countries and make this a much fairer world?
Ellie Pearce, Florianópolis, Brazil

All I want to know is what should the government do instead of bombing Afghanistan, because I don't believe you can talk to a man like Bin Laden.
Kevin, Wrexham

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Can the Northern Alliance be trusted to maintain law and order?

Audience question: Can the Northern Alliance be trusted to maintain law and order and work towards the establishment of a broad-based coalition in Afghanistan? You said:

I agree totally with Aslam's comments about the burqa. Woman in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, parts of Oman among others, all wear the burqa. Why is it only in Afghanistan that it is considered to be such a form of oppression. Could this constant harping on about burqas be part of the West's attempts to justify its actions against the Taleban, and the Afghan people?
Anne, Norwich

Can we please stop going on about the burqa! Afghanistan was not bombed to uphold the rights of women in that country and let's not pretend that we have liberated the women of that country, it is too early to know that. The liberation of women will be demonstrated when the women are fully participating in all the affairs of the society in which they are living, (as was the case in the community of the Prophet of Islam), whether they wear the burqa or not.
Amna, Scotland

I get so dismayed when I hear MPs such as Theresa May empathise with only female oppression. While a woman can be beaten if her face accidentally shows from under her head-to-toe covering, a man can be beaten if his beard isn't long enough. While a woman who commits adultery faces execution, the same fate awaits her male lover. While girls are denied schooling, boys get an ''education'' intended to turn them into future martyrs for jihad. And while women are forbidden to go to work, men are often forced to go to war.
Julian Abbott, Didcot

An audience member made the comment about "selfish governments" with the implication being that America bought on the Twin Towers atrocities themselves. America gives more aid than any other country in times of crisis, it is called on constantly for foreign aid and help with debt. It is the country that helped this country win a war. These are not the acts of a selfish nation, but unfortunately with such wealth and power then jealousy from other quarters comes to the fore in the most ugliest of manners.
Catherine, Lowestoft

The Taleban were in power for six years. The suffering the Afghan people endured, especially the women, is almost unthinkable. During this time the west stood by and watched. The reason the west stood by and watched is they thought they could do business namely laying oil pipelines from the Caspian basin through Afghanistan. Then the Taleban refused the west access. This is what the war is all about - nothing to do with Sept 11.

How long will it take to put together a viable coalition government in Afghanistan, and who will be responsible for the composition of that government and its actions thereafter?
Derek Wellesley, Ealing, London

In reply to Aslam's comment on women wanting to wear the burqa isn't it right that the women should have the choice of whether to wear it or not. People who still want to wear it are free to do so.
Keith Bevins, Rugby

It is totally outrageous that a member of the audience was applauded for her comment that the US was morally responsible for September 11th. This echoes the sentiments of Osama Bin Laden and other such cowards.
James, London

Thank goodness for the freedom of speech that we have in this country, where we can all take part in open discussions without censorship and the threat of oppression.
Luke Chadwick, Cambridge

Although it is true that the Koran states that women should dress modestly, throughout Islam there are many and varied interpretations of this. Given the diverse tribal nature of Afghanistan many women are being/have been forced to wear the burqa which is in fact alien and abhorrent to their traditions and beliefs.
Douglas Else-Jack, Woking

I think we should be very wary about trusting the Northern Alliance and also thinking that the Taleban are giving up. I believe the Taleban are going to be ruthless when it comes to taking our ground troops into Southern Afghanistan and the mountainous areas. I also worry that the Taleban members who are jumping ship to the Northern Alliance may re-group in 12 months time and trouble could begin again.
Helen Richardson, Casleford

With reference to Piers Morgan's scathing remarks about the Northern Alliance, can we now expect the Daily Mirror to publish equally scathing comments about the Israeli government? After all, they did invent modern terrorism as we know it when they murdered British soldiers to retake Israel after carrying hatred for Palestinians inside them for 2000 years.
Jeff Williams, Talbot Green, Mid Glam

I am outraged that someone can make a statement like "the USA is morally responsible for September 11th" and this can go unchallenged by the panel.
David Mcnee, Nantwich

It seems there is complete ignorance of Islam amongst the panellists and the audience. There is such a misconception and patronising of Muslims about the burqa. Do people realise Muslim women may actually prefer to wear the burqa as part of dressing modestly as prescribed by Islam? To be able to do so is also an expression of freedom for some women, rather than out of fear of some regime.
Aslam, London

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OK to imprison people without trial?

Audience question: Why is it wrong for the Taleban to imprison people without trial but OK for the British government to do it? You said:

Does that mean that the suspects of the car bombing in Birmingham should have this law imposed onto them as this was a terrorist act and could have been a fatal loss of life if the bomb had exploded or does this law only apply to Islamic extremists?)
Dr Patel, Manchester

At one point in his denunciation of the action against the Taleban, Piers Morgan raised the point about the arrest of six Real IRA suspects, which was down to good police and intelligence work. This is a country where the government does not treat terrorists as 'guests'. I have no doubt that now the Taleban seem to have been removed from power in Afghanistan, if Osama is found it will be as a result of someone betraying him or good intelligence on the ground. The point is that we have to get rid of his protectors before this could happen.
Peter Haymes, Felixstowe

Of course it is correct to detain those suspected of terrorism in our country. It is far better to pursue this policy rather than risk another atrocity. Even if a limited number are wrongly imprisoned, surely this is outweighed by the benefits to our national security.
James, London

I believe that the UK has every right to defend itself against the threat of terror. The right to hold suspects, if justified, is the right thing to do... We must never forget September 11th, we owe it to all those who died and all those who live have a right to be protected...
Keith, London

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Necessary for politician to divulge details of personal life?

Audience question: Where an aspiring political leader has committed no criminal act should it be necessary for him to divulge details of his personal life before taking office? You said:

Piers, not only are the public uninterested in MPs' private lives, we are also getting rather tired of everything they say and (don't) do. Never a straight answer, always a swipe at each other and complete inaction when it comes to what they got voted in for and are paid to do.
Iain Edward, London

How ironic that an affair might end an MP's position, now they start with one!
M Kelly, Derby

All too often indiscretions of people in power are disclosed by the tabloid press, quite rightly in most cases, not in others. Tonight's panel seemed to err on the press minding its own business, that indiscretions are an everyday thing in our modern society and therefore of no consequence to others. But in the case of people whose careers are based on power as in the case of our elected government then total transparency is a must, and for one extremely important reason and that is SECURITY and BLACKMAIL.
Mr D Adams, Brixham

I'm sorry but I just cannot agree with Bill Cameron and James Jackson. WAKE UP!! What we need is leaps of faith in our politicians. Just because someone has lied to his/her partner doesn't mean that everything he/she says will be a lie. People are only human and will lie when necessary in attempts to keep their relationships going. How many politicians do you know of who, in recent years, have been caught telling "porkies". I can only think of a few. Is that too many? I don't think so!
Glis Rep, Twickenham

Extra-marital affairs may well be conducted by deceiving a partner. In such a case, it is this lack of integrity that calls into question the suitability of such a figure to hold office, and the need for the public to be aware of such activity. From the comments made on the programme, this point was sadly overlooked.
K Hawkes, Torquay

Full marks to the Scottish minister for trying to start with a clean slate. Long may it continue.
Keith, Rugby

I agree with the comments of Bill Cameron. Reference to the past is a good guide to the behaviour of the future. Deceit and dishonesty tend to be oft repeated traits, particularly when a sexual motive is present. Something indescribable here has no conscience, they say. We need politicians who have consciences in abundance.
James Jackson, London

Anyone who has engaged in marital infidelity has engaged in a level of dishonesty and deceit. This must surely be of interest to the voting public in the case of unfaithful politicians, whose honesty and openness are of great importance to the voters because it is absolutely essential that such voters are totally sure of those whom they ask to represent their interests. Therefore the media must be at liberty, and encouraged to keep the public informed.
Bill Cameron, London

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Safety on the railways rather than shareholders' dividends?

Audience question: Earlier this week the shadow secretary accused Stephen Byers of stringing Railtrack along. Should politicians concern themselves with safety rather than shareholders' dividends? You said:

I'm not too sure that Stephen Byers' recent actions show any more concern for rail safety than shareholders' rights. The railways were no more accident free when run by their previous owners (the government), and in fact much of Railtrack's problems have been due to the years of under investment and neglect at the hands of British Railways. As to shareholders' dividends, I invested in Railtrack because I believed in the future of the railways, and have received no income, as I took extra shares instead of dividends.
R Burton, Wallasey

If the governement is able to susidise airlines, then why was the rail service allowed to get so bad? I would suggest we try and learn a little from the French and Europe - their services are far superior.
Caroline Byrne, London

Rail safety depends on adequate investment in the system to ensure a safe and affordable rail network. The question is whether by his recent actions Stephen Byers has increased or reduced this. No British government has ever been able to invest sufficient money to adequately fund the railway. Money must therefore come also from the private sector. If the recent action of Stephen Byers in respect to Railtrack diminishes, or even ends the possibility of new PPPs being funded by The City then the future of not only Railtrack will look bleak but many other developments also.
Alan Fulwood, Isle of Wight

If the government is hell-bent in wanting to renationalise the rail infrastructure, Byers' record as a politician and intellectual lightweight makes me think that this government has lost the plot. Why should the private sector want to support further investment in the public private finance initiatives when the goalposts could move any minute at the whim of the UK government? HM government should remember that it is now much easier for investment to be global for the small players as well as the large.
David Morris, Abergavenny

People tend to write off the quality of service provision with regard to trains too easily. They take it for granted that we on the whole have excellent public services...the best NHS in the world for example. Ladbroke Grove tragic though it was, was due to individual error. We are very lucky in this country to have trains that run basically on time...and Mr Byers should have left Railtrack well alone.

I agree that the Conservative Party put profit before lives. That is to be expected. However, Stephen Byers and the Labour Party have acted too slowly and less decisively than could have been hoped. Mr Byers should have gone for re-nationalisation and the Labour government should have rushed through the corporate killing legislation following Paddington.
Nick Palmer, Leicester

Profit, it appears, is a dirty word. Yet profit repays debt and translates to interest on our savings and tax revenues that pay for public services, pensions, etc. The grand vision of stakeholder pensions is hugely dependent on companies creating wealth from profit generation. Perhaps Railtrack got some of its priorities wrong but rail transport was no better when state owned. Labour politicians had better learn very quickly the meaning of profits.
Bruce T Brown, Birmingham

We must clearly wait on events to see whether the government's decision to re-nationalise Railtrack has a beneficial or adverse effect on safety. Two things however are certain. First, tax payers' money which might have been spent on track improvements will now go into the pockets of lawyers and judges, of accountants and auditors as the government struggles to make its proposed changes effective. Second, the money that son-of-Railtrack will need in years to come will have to be provided almost entirely by the public purse as no one in his right mind would even consider investing in a non-profit concern subject to the whims of government intervention. Safety may be improved, but I fear any improvement is liable to stem from trains running more slowly and less frequently.
Lloyd Davies, London

Just like those who bought their council property under "right to buy" and then were surprised when the mortgage lender wished to repossess, the Railtrack shareholders should be given lessons on the realities of investment.
Kevin Connolly, Salisbury

With all the millions of £'s wasted, why not invite/invest in our friends across the Channel (who already have the technology and rolling stock) to install all of the UK rail network?
Severin Kulesza, Abingdon

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General comments on the programme:

It is quite right that David Dimbleby should call on female members of the audience as "women" rather than "ladies", if the male members are "men" and not "gentlemen". In the 21st century surely we are comfortable being addressed/referred to as what we are, men and women?! I agree that it was a rather weak panel (with the exception of Piers Morgan), but I'm sure it's not possible to strike gold every time, since people cancel at the last minute, etc.
Aidan TA Varney, West London

Can something be done to stop the very tiresome clapping every time some audience members hear something with which they agree. Due to the acoustics of a TV studio, a small number of gratuitous applauders can give the impression of mass acclamation. In this way, small groups of people with extreme views and the political agitation skills of the students' union can dominate the entire show. I suggest either a stern word from Mr Dimbleby or some clever stuff from the sound engineer.
Andrew Maurice, Watford

Full marks to the excellent Piers Morgan for making some of the only sensible and heart-felt comments of the programme. He has a great screen presence and is to be applauded for his stance on press freedom - an issues which we take for granted. Please do not have Richard Branson back - he seems to drift off when others are talking only to be caught off guard when a question is put to him.
S Aston, London

Heaven forbid I am no Conservative supporter but I must protest at the way in which David constantly interrupted Theresa May, at one point he was very rude to her and I thought that this was quite unnecessary.
Elaine Dower, Bedfordshire

This question is for David. Please can you tell my father and I why you have taken to addressing ladies as "women" ie when you want a question from "the woman in the yellow jumper". We feel it is much more polite to use the term "lady" and that using "woman" is a general lowering of standards.
Sarah Aynesworth, Skipton

I think Mr Dimbleby has lost the skill of remaining impartial during the discussions. He constantly interrupted Theresa May this evening, cut short her responses to questions and prevented her from coming back to answer certain points.
Sheila Egerton, London

Worst programme yet - take out all the "oo's" "ah's" "mm's" and stutters, and the programme would have been over in 15 minutes.
John, Aberdeen

If it were not for the stuttering and stammering, by the panellists, you would be able to fit in at least two extra questions. This programme has gone right downhill. Richard Branson and the Sunday Times reporter were the worst offenders tonight. If people are inarticulate they have no place on a discussion programme. Worse than this is the guffawing exchanges which drown out everything. The poor viewer can hear nothing.
PJW Holland, London

I would just like to say that this has been the most appalling panel I have witnessed on Question Time. Richard Branson just made me want to switch the TV off, Theresa and Marie could not answer a question directly. Piers and the final panellist were a lot better, and only because of them I stayed tuned.
Seema, London

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