April 27, Newcastle

April 13, Edinburgh

March 30, Belfast

March 23, Maidstone

March 16, Truro

March 9, Nottingham

March 2, London

February 24, Leeds

February 17, London

February 10, Birmingham

February 3, Brussels

January 27, Southampton

January 20, Liverpool

January 13, London

December 16, Leeds

December 9, Manchester

December 2, Cardiff

November 25, Birmingham

November 18, Durham

November 11, Maidstone

November 4, Glasgow

October 28, Southampton

October 21, London

October 14, Sydney

October 7, Manchester

September 30, Bournemouth

September 23, London

July 15, Belfast

July 8, London

July 1, Birmingham


September 23, London

On the panel were:

  • Nick Brown MP, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
  • John Maples MP, shadow defence secretary
  • Baroness Shirley Williams, Liberal Democrat life peer
  • Mary Ann Sieghart, assistant editor of The Times
  • Michael Bloomberg, founder and CEO of financial information company, Bloomberg

The topics discussed this week were:

Reversing the menopause
Arms to Indonesia
Smoking and litigation
Beef on the bone
Prosecuting spies
Performance-related pay for teachers


Reversing the menopause

Audience Question: Is it morally correct for a woman after menopause to have the right to have a child

Shirley Williams: It worries me a great deal. I can see the argument where a woman is infertile as a result of radio-therapy for instance. The onset of menopause is to do with the age at which a woman can handle 20 years that a child needs to become mature. We're moving towards custom-built, off-the-shelf kids. It's a very unfortunate development if a woman of 62 decides to have kids. We need a consensus amongst doctors and government. You need to look at this from the point of view of the child and not just the parent. Men ought to be fully fathers and take part in raising kids.

Nick Brown: We shouldn't be frightened about medical science. The government is waiting for medical and ethical advice. This could enhance the lives of young women tremendously. Why do people always talk about the age of the woman? What about the age of the father?

Mike Bloomberg: I'm not sure you should play God and decide what is an appropriate age. Why do you have a right to say a woman can't have a child.

Mary Ann Sieghart: If our bodies were designed to have children when we were 20, that was at a time when our life expectancy was 30 or 40. Now we expect to live until we're 70 or 80, yet the window of opportunity for having children is so narrow for women, whereas it's huge for men. There are 20 years between 40 and 60 in which women at the moment can't have children and will be able to. That's one of the biggest sexual inequalities and it really affects our emotional lives.

John Maples: I can't understand why anyone would want to have children at 60. Many scientific advances can be used for the wrong purposes. The main purpose of this new therapy was to help woman who would otherwise not have been able to have children.

What you said:

After the recent birth of a baby, where the foetus grew outside the womb, should more research should be done into whether a man could give birth one day?
Simon Taylor

With a population of 56 million and a world population of over 6 billion, there should be some consideration for the child not to come into an over-crowded world. We seem to think it's our right to carry on regardless.
Graham Dawe

A debate like this always brings a lot of unreasonable arguments out of the woodwork, mainly from those more horrified at the prospect of other women having children older than they "should be" the more emotive the argument, the less it has to do with them personally.
Akin S. Akinwunmi

Why are we thinking about new ways to produce children in an over populated and unbalanced environment?
Mark Bruce

Regarding the implantation of ovarian tissue to reverse the menopause : Many diseases are accelerated by the onset of the menopause for example heart disease. Surely this alone means this technology is a fantastic opportunity. The debate about age and motherhood is simply allowing us to vent ageist views.
Tim Pearce

Return to the top of the page


Arms to Indonesia

Audience Question: Isn't the government being hypocritical by claiming an ethical foreign policy and yet selling arms to countries such as Indonesia?

Mary Ann Sieghart: They're sending hawk aircraft in one shipment and Gurkhas in another. It's absolutely outrageous.

John Maples: Robin Cook shouldn't have raised the issue of ethics at all. Foreign policy should be about pursuing your country's interests. Far more licenses for arms shipments have been refused than have been granted. The hawks were not used for ground control but for training people. Applications for machine guns and small arms were refused. Most people have been killed with small arms and machetes. It is not in our interests for Indonesia to collapse into chaos. The international community and the UN has some soul-searching questions about why it hasn't done anything before now. Indonesia is starting to emerge from a terrible period in its history.

Shirley Williams: As it happens, Ramos Horta the Nobel peace prize winner for East Timor was one of my students at Harvard. He told me that major arms contracts signed by the Indonesian armed forces were signed under the Conservative government. The Labour government decided not to break off the contracts. It has very great implications to break off a contract than to enter into it in the first place. There are real problems with selling arms to regimes that are clearly repressive. Indonesia took over East Timor while it was a Portugese mandated territory, and it was occupied in 1975 against the UN mandate. Suharto was always engaged in internal repression. The important question is: how far are we going to arm dictatorships?

Nick Brown: We are intervening to save people's lives now, as we did in the Balkans. It's much better to have a government striving towards an ethical foreign policy than one that does not. In the last full year of Tory government (1996) arms sales to Indonesia amounted to just under 500m, last year it was 1m. When we came into power we put an embargo on small arms sales. None of the small arms that were used for repression in East Timor could have come from here. But the incoming (Labour) government had to deal with legally binding contracts.

Mike Bloomberg: Fighting against weapons you manufactured just happens sometimes. And surely you shouldn't sell weapons to people who use them to massacre their own citizens. But a lot of times governments feel engagement is better than walking away. Indonesia two years ago was a country that was in boom-time and everyone wanted to trade with. Nobody would have expected this a few years ago. For the world to sit back now is unconscionable in this day and age. The potential for destabilisation in this part of the world is enormous. Standing aside isn't productive. Every country has a vested interest.

What you said:

Ethical foreign policies are the chimera of the dim. If countries act according to self-interest, they can negotiate effective compromises with other countries following their own predictable self-interests. This is a system that has served the world well since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. When countries start banging on about about 'morals' or 'ethics' we must ask 'who's morals and ethics'? As there are as many morals and ethics as there are nations, the whole system of diplomatic relations becomes muddied, confused and inevitably racist.
D. O'Connor

The level of ignorance of both panelists and studio members on this question was truly appalling. East Timor has never been recognised as part of Indonesia by the UN and even the Tories did not accept Indonesia's genocidal annexation as legitimate. There was a Labour government in power when Indonesia invaded East Timor and two of its citizens (Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie) were killed. And it was a Labour government which kept 'normal relations' with Indonesia afterwards. I am glad Maples calls for self-interested diplomacy. It is clear that the Tory definition of self-interest does not include preservation of the rule of international law, the promotion of democracy or the maintenance of human rights. I am very tired of the why here and not there discussion. I begin to hear those very familiar English voices saying there's been 'too much fuss' about East Timor, 'we're going too far' and 'it's not really anything to do with me'.
Louisa

I don't know where John Maples statement that the Hawk is a trainer came from. It is advertised as a trainer/light combat aircraft. If you go to the BA website, they are only too happy to demonstrate the fire power of the Hawk.
Nick Clark

John Maples was trying to score cheap political points by pointing the finger at Labour, when the Tories made the deal with Indonesia. The British arms industry will always want to sell its products to nations considered "friendly".
Kevin Webster

Somebody may like to point out to the Tory MP on the programme at the moment that British Aerospace lists the Hawk jet fighter as a "Ground Attack" aircraft. This contradicts what he said about the plane being a "training" aircraft. It is perfectly capable of being used in ground suppression of civilians and vehicles.
Neil Nisbet

The UN held a referendum with explicit guarantees made to the East Timorese that the UN (and Indonesia) would honour and enforce the result, and guarantee the safety of those who so bravely voted. It was not the 'media' nor even the governments of the world who achieved this but the long and resolute determination of the East Timorese to persist in their struggle for freedom after suffering a genocidal invasion. Almost 80% voted for independence in the face of horrific intimidation. Many people in other countries have worked hard lobbying, campaigning for 24 years to support them - but it is the East Timorese who deserve credit. Those of us who care about East Timor know that we must do more work to support the East Timorese - not least to get people to know the facts about the situation.
Sarah Alessi

Did I hear the Baroness say that Timor was not an oil producer? Did she mean to say that the Timorese are not privy to the profits of $130 million per annum or is she ignorant of the fact that this virtual gold mine exists?
Kenneth Lobb

Return to the top of the page


Smoking and litigation

Audience Question: Should tobacco companies be sued for going about their legitimate business, or should smokers have to pay for the damages they are causing to themselves

Mike Bloomberg: The government does better when people smoke because of the taxes they raise, and when they die early because they don't use their care or pension. The question is: at what level should the government be involved in protecting the public. The state governments have found themselves on the side of encouraging smoking by settling with the tobacco companies. I don't see any practical ways we can get rid of smoking. If you want to stay healthy: stay out of the sun, don't eat red meat and don't smoke. But in a free society, people have to have the right to run some risks.

Mary Ann Sieghart: The cynicism of these tobacco companies is breathtaking. They knew for decades that smoking was addictive and that it was likely to kill. They relentlessly marketed cigarettes hoping to catch people while they're young. And when public pressure started to stop advertising in western countries, now they just do it in the third world instead.

Nick Brown: I believe the best way to discourage young people from smoking - short of making it illegal, which is going too far in a free society - is through the tax system. The government fulfils its duties by expalining the risks to the public. I don't favour legalising cannabis and don't favour banning smoking. Educated citizens should be free to make up their own minds.

John Maples: Anybody who's been smoking over the last 30 years must have known that this was bad for their health. The Royal College of Surgeons first produced a report on the link between smoking and lung cancer in 1964. America has this litigous culture where you for sue for everything and look for someone to compensate you for your own faults. The government shouldn't sue the tobacco companies.

Shirley Williams: If you went to central Europe after the fall of the wall you found western tobacco advertisements all over the place. A lot of them are going to die as a consequence. Secondly, we should have the right to recover some of the expenses incurred by the NHS from tobacco-related diseases over the last 30 years.

What you said:

If the same sort of litigation were successfully pursued here, what's the betting that the NHS would still turn their nose up at treating smokers? The state has been in bed with the tobacco companies for years, I admit I haven't done the sums but if as I think it is, tobacco revenue is far higher than NHS expenditure, the doctors really should change their attitudes.
Will Ress

The question of whether it was appropriate for the American Government to sue tobacco manufacturers was of particular interest to me. I am a smoker but also an alcoholic in remission. The damage reeked on society and individuals as a result of alcohol abuse and addiction is staggering. If the Government is prepared to fill its coffers with taxes paid on alcohol then either they or the distillers should be made to consider education and treatment as an overhead. At present the rehabilitation of alcoholics is being effectively reprioritised with resources being shifted within the 'Addiction Services ' cake toward drug treatment. The spending and resources allocated to education and rehabilitation are derisory when expressed as a percentage of revenue generated.
John Moore

Nick Brown stated that he believed the best way to prevent people from smoking was to educate. This is so wrong - educating against smoking has been taking place for many years. But people are still smoking. Any government, whilst wanting to be seen as anti-smoking, are simply interested in the taxes generated from the sales of tobacco. If any Government was truly interested in preventing / stopping smoking they would fund ongoing recovery and support schemes for people like myself who realise how bad smoking is for them, have tried but have failed to stop. Until we eradicate smoking from the oldest generation we will never get rid of it from the younger generation -being addicted to smoking can happen long before you take your first puff.
Louise Langhorn

The income generated by smoking taxation more than pays for their healthcare costs. It must also be remembered that smokers are less likely to draw their pension thereby saving the Government more money.
Dr Julian Moore

If, as you say, we have the right to choose to smoke and it is not the government's place to dictate our actions, how can the same government dictate that we cannot smoke cannabis which does not kill or cause physical harm?
Bob Williams

Return to the top of the page


Beef on the bone

Audience Question: Shouldn't we all have the choice to eat British Beef on the bone if we want to?

Nick Brown: As a minister I rely on professional advice. I have stuck by the views of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England. The CMO's advice will be put into the public domain for others to reflect on. Rather than lifting the ban just for England, we should have an orderly lifting of the ban for the whole of the UK. The CMOs for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are advising their ministers. We may all go our separate ways but just because devolution allows us to do different things doesn't mean that we have to do different things, when it would be more sensible to act together. I hope we can get the ban lifted at least in England before Christmas.

Mike Bloomberg: The bottom line is - is it safe or not?

Mary Ann Sieghart: You're as likely to catch CJD from eating beef on the bone as you are to be struck by lightning. I love the disordiliness of devolution. The whole point of devolution is that if the Scots want one thing they they can have it and if the English want another they can have that too.

David Dimbleby: If a butcher sold a joint of beef on the bone would he be prosecuted?

Nick Brown: I want to lift the ban. I hear what you're saying but in the meantime people have to obey the rules.

What you said:

Policy for London is being decided in Edinburgh and Cardiff, and will one day be decided in Stormont. Full independence for England NOW!
Bob Harvey

I find it incredulous that Nick Brown, the Minister for Agriculture, pins the blame for not lifting the ban on 'beef on the bone' on devolution. The ban, when it was imposed did not take devolution into account - moreover, Scottish MPs are definitely AGAINST the ban - BSE was never a problem in the Scottish beef herd - and yet Mr. Brown is using devolution as an excuse for the continuation of this ill thought-out policy.
Neil Ritchie

Return to the top of the page


Prosecuting spies

Audience Question: Does the panel agree that spies such as Melita Norwood should be arrested and charged with treason?

John Maples: If she stole secrets and committed an offence, and if there is enough evidence then she should be prosecuted. A number of the people named were 'agents of influence' and probably didn't commit any offence. The way the whole thing has been handled is extraordinary.

Shirley Williams: I find the people who have been caught in the net by the media worrying. There's a slight whiff of McCarthyism about the whole thing. The Home Secretary should investigate and make it quite plain that in the majority of the cases there is no evidence. I think civil servants knew about it and didn't tell politicians.

Mary Ann Sieghart: I don't think age should be a bar. If General Pinochet is old enough to be prosecuted then Melita Norwood is too. Now that she has confessed to it, she should certainly be prosecuted.

Nick Brown: Of course age isn't a bar to prosecution. As I understand it, the Attorney General's view is that the lack of hard evidence makes it difficult to mount prosecutions.

Mike Bloomberg: Why has no-one come to the defence of a poor, little, old granny? There are statutes of limitations on lots of things other than spying. If she is guilty, she should be punished.

Return to the top of the page


Performance-related pay for teachers

Audience question: As someone whose pay is performance-related I'd like to know how David Blunkett believes this will encourage high-fliers into teaching.

John Maples: Different schools should try to do things in different ways. It's dangerous to think that the only way to incentivise people is by paying them more money. Many people in the public sector may not be motivated by money alone. I wouldn't want to see it enforced.

Mike Bloomberg: The controversial proposal on the table in the US is called 'vouchers'. This allows parents to send their children to private school using vouchers issued by the state. That puts the decision-making in the hands of the parents. Parents know where the good schools are, or at least they think they do. But the teachers' unions don't like it. If parents take their kids out of a school, the teachers don't have a job anymore.

Mary Ann Sieghart: It's really good to give teachers positive rewards. My sister is a teacher who can only get promoted if she goes for a more administrative job. We have performance-related pay at the Times and it's not divisive.

Nick Brown: What David Blunkett is doing is right and has been arrived at by consultation. Under the present system able classroom teachers are likely to move away from teaching. We're putting in extra money to make good teachers stay at the 'class-face', in teaching.

Shirley Williams: My worry is that because of the way schools budget they can't keep senior teachers. It has become difficult for experienced teachers to get good jobs. The best teachers either go into administration or leave teaching.

Return to the top of the page






Question Time Home | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage


Link to BBC Homepage