Thursday 4 February, London

Thursday 28 January, Plymouth

Thursday 21 January, Leeds

Thursday 14 January, London

Thursday 17 December, Nottingham

Thursday 10 December, Manchester

Thursday 3 December, Southampton

Thursday 26 November, Newcastle

Thursday 19 November, Peterborough

Thursday 12 November, Glasgow

Thursday 5 November, London

Thursday 29 October, Birmingham

Thursday 22 October, Cardiff

Thursday 28 January, Plymouth

On the panel:

  • Tony Benn MP, Labour
  • Angela Browning MP, Conservative
  • Lembit Opik MP, Liberal Democrat Northern Ireland spokesman
  • Mandy Norwood, editor-in chief, Cosmopolitan
  • Rick Stein, seafood chef


    Audience question: Do the panel agree that Jack Straw has been exceptionally courageous in suggesting that young teenage mothers consider adoption for their babies?

    Mandy Norwood said: "There should be a lot more sex education to stop these girls having unwanted pregnancies in the first place. If they do find themselves pregnant then all the resources should be made available to them to help them keep their babies ... We know from the mothers in the sixties when adoption was incredibly fashionable that those women have then gone on to suffer the most awful mental problems, physical problems. Even Clare Short herself - Jack Straw should listen to Clare Short when she says it was the worst decision of her life."

    Lembit Opik said: "Compulsion must be out ... making sure our society doesn't create an expectation that a teenage mother necessarily has to consider adoption."

    Angela Browning said: "The system is totally against these girls ... The difficulty they have is that the system says you can get all the support if you go away from the parental home, if you then set up on your own without the sort of support that these really quite young girls need, and I think it is that element of the system that needs to be looked at."

    You said:

    Whilst I agree with the concept and reasoning behind the argument for sex education in the battle to reduce unwanted pregnacy, there is also the need for stronger social and moral education among young women related to the practical realities of becomming a single parent. There is also the question of what advice is given to these women and who gives it, when trying to obtain accommodation from local authorities. Indeed when my daughter wanted to stay in the New Forrest area at atime when I had to move away for work reasons, she was advised that if she was to stand any chance of gaining any sort of accommodation she should get pregnant.
    John Harrington

    I think Jack Straw was very brave to say what he did, but I think it has been misconstrued. I think he was genuinely trying to put into the picture another 'alternative' for women who find themselves pregnant and in a dilemma. There are many people wishing to adopt and not enough 'young' children to adopt. However, more active steps should be undertaken to try and find placements for those children not quite so young; one of these steps should be to lessen restrictions on prospective parents who smoke, drink or who perhaps are overweight - 'biological' parents often fall into these categories too and still live long enough to bring up their families.
    Mrs Julie Mills

    Fairness at Work Bill

    Audience question: Will the proposed Fairness at Work Act make small firms think twice about employing more staff?

    Tony Benn said: "The whole argument is a product of the Thatcher years when she tried to destroy trade unionism ... The truth of the matter is, if you can only make a living by exploiting people then you'd better think again about what you're doing."

    Rick Stein said: "Surely the whole culture of business is to look after the people that work for you and do you need legislation to make them look after you?"

    Angela Browning said: "I think creeping in to the sort of questions that might be asked at interview will be, 'Do you have elderly parents, have you got children who are school-age?'. What I would be very concerned about, if there's a family crisis we are going to have to enshrine in legislation what is and what isn't a family crisis. It's nonsense."

    Lembit Opik said: "I really can understand why small business people would be concerned. But I would say to them that they have nothing to fear, because ultimately if we are the kind of progressive society that I think Britain actually is, then we should be willing to invest in people - knowing that that gets much more return than it ever costs to give people decent working conditions."

    Mandy Norwood said: "Like most of the new Labour legislation this is completely woolly ... The so-called family friendly measures simply do not go far enough and the only people who are going to be able to take advantage of this so-called unpaid leave are the people who can afford not to work anyway."

    You said:

    I have written to Tony Benn following his comments on Question Time 28/1/99 concerning people earning £1.70 ph in residential homes - there may be a few homes within the country offering such appalling wages, but his remarks were tarring the whole industry with the same brush - this is totally out of order. I feel that these sort of comments should be made clear by the person making them that they may only refer to a minority and NOT the majority. No wonder the public has little faith in our industry despite the many many good homes that outshine the few bad.
    June Haydon, Proprietor/Care Manager, Residential Care home for Alzheimers/Elderly

    The panel have said that the larger employers are already doing the 'extras' laid out in the new act, but my wife works for one of the large banks and she is not being paid now when our two-year-old daughter is ill, and she is also being made to work compulsory overtime and is going to be made to work on the millennium bank holidays as well. And this is from a large employer!
    Simon Bliss, Suffolk

    Your question on rights in low paid jobs struck a chord. My wife started a job in a large supermarket a year ago to support our daughter at university. In June last year she slipped on the stairs, hurt her back and had three weeks off with a medical certificate. Bearing in mind she only works 12 hours a weeks, she was verbally warned for too high an absenteeism, and at Christmas was denied a pay rise because of her absence level. When she questioned that this time off was certificated, the reply was, "we have people with cancer and they don't qualify either".
    Roger Griffiths

    I am always asked if I have children. When answered 'yes' they ask how will they be looked after if they are ill or if they have doctors' appointments!
    Deb Danks

    I think it is important that workers within small companies should have at least some sort of security especially in today's global economy. A basic minimum wage is an important prerequisite to this. We are approaching the 21st century and supposedly living in one of the richest countries in the world and some people are earning degrading figures like less than £2 an hour.
    Shane Cogan

    I run a small insurance brokerage and when I hear the response to the fairness at work, I feel that many just do not realise the rewards that are available to small businesses. It is either profit or exploitation that makes small businesses large and that in the majority of small businesses such as ours we would pay higher wages just to keep our staff and show our appreciation for their efforts.
    Nick Fairs

    Yes the people at the top are going to be the only ones able to take advantage of this new legislation. Further, most people are so insecure today that most people further down the ladder will be unlikely to risk taking extra time off.
    John Smith

    Food standards agency

  • The annual £90 fee for all food retailers regardless of size

    Audience question: Is the funding of the Food Standards agency nothing more than a food poll tax?

    Rick Stein said: "I cannot see the need for another level of observation of what we do ... Even a small café can afford £90, it's after all less than a TV licence, so that's not the thing. Do we have a real problem with food safety? I'm not aware that we do."

    Mandy Norwood said: "Okay so £90 isn't very much but sure as hell that will be passed on to the consumer. And why on earth should we be forced to pay extra for food just to guarantee that it does not kill us?"

    Tony Benn said: "The health of the nation is a national interest, that's why we have the welfare state, that's why we have the health service. And once you start saying you've got to pay for food standards separately, what about paying for health, what about paying for schools? ... Let's ask people who are getting these huge salaries to contribute to pay, but not on the basis of this flat-rate tax."

    You said:

    I have noticed that it takes an uncomfortable while for my body to aclimatise from highly sanitised UK food to other nations' concepts of food hygiene. On the flip side of this, I read articles about bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and penicillin. I therefore fail to see how steps to further lower tolerance to bacteria and accelerate bacterial hardiness can be claimed to be safeguarding the nation's health.
    Will Rees

    Before the FDA in this country, there were people selling chalk and water for milk and axle grease for cooking, so as an American I cannot understand the argument of the fish man about not needing an independent food agency.
    Sonja Holland

    How can the food retailing industry object to the small cost levied to finance the food standards agency? This industry is quite willing to pass on any costs to the public that it sees fit. I don`t doubt that this cost will be passed on in the usual manner.
    David Caisley

    Violence in Northern Ireland

    Audience question: Would stopping the release of prisoners in Northern Ireland jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement?

    Angela Browning said: "No I don't agree with that and William Hague has been absolutely right to press the prime minister on this. There is absolutely no indication at all that weapons and bombs are going to be handed in."

    Lembit Opik said: "If we are say that we have to slow down or stop prisoner releases we are saying that the Good Friday Agreement is beginning to fail ... We have to trust the process. We have got a lot further down the track than we ever have before and it would be madness the throw that away."

    Mandy Norwood said: "The whole peace agreement has degenerated into a nursery rhyme whose words and rhythm change by the day ... Everyone has to be in agreement - you can't just have one person fighting for peace."

    You said:

    In areas where the Liberals and New Labour agree, there appears to be a reluctance to hold a proper mature debate. A very sensible and rational request by the Conservatives for a rethink on prisoner releases in Northern Ireland has been met by near hysteria by New Labour. Instead of explaining why their policy is correct, they have tried to ridicule anyone who disagrees with them. The tirade by Opik on Question Time in respect of Northen Ireland epitomised this. Instead of explaining why prisoners should be released without one bullet being handed in, he attacked anyone who dare question if this is the correct policy. This same arrogance applies to discussions on constitutional affairs and the single currency - a healthy democracy depends on open disucssion and debate.
    Craig B Lanham

    William Hague says that the logical conclusion of the government's plans for Northern Ireland are for all terrorists to be set free while no weapons have been handed in. It is more than that: the logical conclusion is that those committing acts of terrorism are simply not arrested. In other words a victory for terrorism and the breakdown of law and order. Lembit Opik's accusation of Hague trying to score party political points revealed his total lack of judgement and his claim that punishment beatings are not political revealed his astonishingly inept grasp of the situation.
    RD Lewin

    Is it not crass on Hague's part to cast doubt on the Good Friday agreement? As the old saying goes: United we stand, Divided we fall. Yes it is true there are many issues which are cause for concern (for both sides). However, for the leader of the opposition to score political points on this issue in my opinion beggars belief.
    Ben Cavanagh

    Is it not more likely that the type of violence which fuels the trouble will increase as more prisoners released into a world where their tools are freely available? Surely, the suspension of releases until some action, in terms of getting rid of weapons, is seen in return. This is only fair. Would you pay a dodgy garage before you've seen the car?
    Joe Farmer

    Tony Benn was fundamentally right to make the comparison between punishment beatings in Northern Ireland and the US bombing of civilian targets in Basra. It is crucial that people with national television profiles continue to bring up again and again the issue of US terrorism against innocent Iraqi citizens (as if the sanctions weren't enough), until the hypocrisy of the US and this country ends.

    The present government has done far more to sustain peace in Northern Ireland than the previous government did over the last 20 years. Also, punishment beatings occur in every major city and the reason they are being highlighted by the Conservative Party is purely for scapegoating purposes. Yes there are difficulties but at least a political bridge of reconciliation has begun upon which a permanent settlement may be reached.
    Shane Cogan


    Audience question: Is it time for the Olympics to go back to basics since there's corruption of all kinds and it's ruining the international series of games?

    Mandy Norwood said: "What I would like to see is that the sporting spirit is brought back into fashion."

    Tony Benn said: "We should attack fraud and the causes of fraud and the truth of the matter is that we're trained every day and told in every newspaper, if you want something you've got to pay for it. Fraud is market forces applied to sport."

    General comments

    You said:

    I like seeing more than just politicians on the panel, after all they're not the only people with opinions.
    Craig Miles

    Thank you so much for making Question Time available over the internet. I have been living in the United States for 15 years and have missed watching your program ever since coming here. It is such a delight to watch quality, thought provoking, intelligent programming and it is greatly appreciated - especially in this country which, though it has many wonderful assets, is sadly lacking in good quality television. So, thank you. Watching Question Time every week has become a highlight and has certainly changed the quality of my life.
    Gillian Overton

    Not a wildly intelligent comment, but Tony Benn is as inspiring and as visionary as ever.
    Andi J Wolf

    Are the audience selected for their rowdiness and swear words on some nights? I think all this shouting from the audience spoils the programme.

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