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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 1999, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
October 7, Manchester
On the panel were:

  • Robin Cook MP, Foreign Secretary
  • Michael Ancram MP, Conservative Party Chairman
  • Menzies Campbell MP, Liberal Democratic Foreign Affairs Spokesman
  • Janet Street-Porter, editor, Independent on Sunday
  • Martha Lane Fox, co-founder and director of internet company Lastminute.com

The topics discussed this week were:

Paddington rail crash
Conservative Party conference
Lady Thatcher's views on Europe
Education: Vocational versus academic


Paddington rail crash

Audience question: Is public safety being sacrificed for the profits of Railtrack and the shareholders?

Robin Cook: "We must rebuild confidence in the railways. Money is not going to stand in the way of that."

Michael Ancram: "This is a time when we don't play party politics. We need to have a swift inquiry. It must come up with answers quickly and it must be carried through. We will support the government in finding answers to this."

Janet Street-Porter: "A lot of people tonight will be thinking 'I have to go on a train tomorrow and I don't have a choice.' It shouldn't take a crash for people to suddenly make money available to implement safety. The consumers' interest is paramount and safety is at the top of the list."

Menzies Campbell: "It's absolutely essential that consideration now should not be linked only to how this accident happened, but whether or not the administrative arrangements which have been put in place since the privatisation of the railways, are adequate."

Martha Lane Fox: "I think it's an really interesting tension that arrives between a service, that I believe should be a public service, that's become a private service. Transport is a fundamental right. Clear safety has been overlooked."

You said:

In the light of the Paddington disaster, will the government now rethink the privatisation of the Tube? If Railtrack and private train operators cannot use the overground rail network safely, what will they do to a complicated underground system? The potential for an underground collision doesn't bear thinking about.
Elaine Graham-Leigh

I was appalled by the arrogance of Michael Ancram who wished to avoid a party political debate on the Paddington train crash. I can understand why, because it shows the arrant hypocrisy of the Conservative Party. In the televised news bulletins shown on Wednesday night, they showed Cecil Parkinson stating after the Clapham rail disaster in 1988 that the Automatic Train Protection System would be introduced immediately. The availability of money was not going to be a problem. This system has not been introduced over 11 years later. Over 100 commuters have been allowed to die, by the deception of the Conservative Party. They ought to hang their heads in shame.
Padraig Faughnan

I was once proud of British Rail and would like to be again. I overslept the 97 crash and did not go to work in Hammersmith that day. I now avoid contracts where I have to commute by 125 as I believe the track quality inferior for the speed the trains are operated at. Having worked in Holland and experienced their silent running and vibration free IC trains I feel more ashamed than proud of the rail network in the UK.
Karsten Evans

There were discussions about the privatisation of the railways. What disasters will occur with the privatisation of air space?
Paul Mears

This Government is just about to privatise the National Air Traffic service even though they said before coming to power that they never would. Will we have a mid-air crash over a built up area? Aviation should learn from the bitter lessons learnt by rail. Say no to the privatisation of our airspace.
Martin Robinson, London SW16

This kind of accident CANNOT happen again, cost cannot be applied to loss of life! Robin Cook: The Tories promised what you said about expenditure of rail safety in 1989, can we trust Labour?
Peter Adams

How can the cost of railway safety be measured in '££ per lives saved'? Surely safety has no price?
Martin Richter, Hastings

I have listened to the comments of the panel ... is not a case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted?
David Smith

Once again we see the old tradition of profit before everything else. Somebody should be made accountable for accidents like this and be sent to jail for a long long time. Every government spouts about being the party of law and order, when are they going to actually do something about this and other criminal acts? The people of this country have had enough!
Barry Jones

Considering the impression that not much has been done since Clapham to improve safety on our tracks, what would be the Conservatives response to the Paddington disaster? This latest crash makes a mockery of all those who have died in previous accidents. What a waste.
Zachary Mann

The public inquiry into this tragedy should be done at least within the next two months, NOT the next two years.
Jason Store

If you really want to know people's attitude to safety versus money, and it does come down to that, check out the number of private cars being driven around in a poor state of repair eg worn tyres, see how many people would drive without insurance if they didn't need it by law. See how many people will fly on a cheap airline. They're only concerned about safety when it backfires on them. Formula 1 drivers are just the same, they're all up in arms when someone is badly injured or killed but when they are required to turn-up to boring meetings to discuss safety issues, they would sooner go snow-boarding or whatever. Safety costs and it's as simple as that, designing and maintaining systems to a safety standard is an utterly thankless, painstaking occupation and the people who do it are more often than not regarded as nerdy saddo anoraks by the media types who immediately go into hyperbole every time the inevitable disasters happen. I know, I was a Quality Manager in a company that was contemptuous of the whole QA issue and I had a simple choice of blowing the whistle or leaving. That was my last permanent, staff job and it was 10 years ago. I've been contracting ever since and I've been unemployed and I've worked as a dispatch rider. The truth just ain't palatable or sexy is it?
Steve Warrin

I am 14 years of age and I am appalled that such an emotional event is being used so cold-bloodedly as a party political issue. I understand that the factor of increasing the safety on railways by installing this safety device is important and it needs to be discussed, but please have sympathy for the families and friends of people who were involved in this horrific train crash and not discuss the issue right now in such a cold and calculated way. There are people out there who have their friends and relatives dead, and some who don't even know where their loved ones are. I am saddened.
Rebecca Hill

I would like to ask Robin Cook to urge the government to act more like a Labour government and re-Nationalise those services which should be kept in the public's hands. There is no difference between the railways of the UK and the NHS, as both provide the public with services which they need. Keep the public services in the public sector!
James Edwards, West Wales

Why are we rated 9th in Europe for the worst train accident and safety rating? We are dealing with our own lives here. Why are these problems always addressed after the tragedy? These privatised services make masses of money every day, do they have any real consideration for our safety? It certainly makes one think twice about getting on a train.
Matthew Bowyer

The question of public safety versus the profits of private companies raised by the Paddington rail disaster ought to give pause for thought. Should the National Air Traffic Control Service privatisation be allowed to continue?
John Lines

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Conservative Party conference

Audience question: Will the Common Sense Revolution be more successful than Back to Basics?

Menzies Campbell: "I'm rather pleased with the Tory Party conference. We now actually see what the Tory Party is going to be like in the next election. It's pretty clear that it wants to adopt increasingly right-wing positions, it wants to be increasingly eurosceptic. Parties do not win general elections either from the extreme left or the extreme right. It tells us what the result of the next election will be."

Janet Street Porter: "The Common Sense Revolution was a patronising title for a rather rag-bag group of ideas, some of which sound sensible until you look into them further. For example the Tories are still completely obsessed with lowering tax. I think people are more interested in basic things like transport, education, safety and less administration and I didn't hear too much about that."

Martha Lane Fox : "I didn't see anything particularly revolutionary in what William Hague was saying. I think the Conservative Party lost me a long time ago and I would take issue with constantly putting up catch phrases about politics. They should go back to exactly what the real issues are, like transport, like education, like funding the health service, that my generation would like to hear about."

Michael Ancram: "The people who attack us for moving to the right, they don't look at what we are talking about. When we had the Listening to Britain exercise people suddenly realised that we could, through Conservative polices, deliver what they wanted and what they wanted was not politics but common sense and that's why we called it that."

Robin Cook: "It's a bit rich for the people who gave us the poll tax and two worst recessions in the last half-century now to say they're going to give us common sense. The best summation of the Common Sense Revolution was provided by Norman Tebbit, who announced he's never felt more comfortable in the Tory party for 10 years. This is a policy that's appealing, like Norman Tebbit, to the past. it's appealing to the right-wing extremism."

You said:

After listening to Mr Hague at his party conference, I am happy to hear his common sense idea about returning all children to school who are truant. Does this mean that the Tories intend to increase the amount of policeman on the beat in every village, town and city in order to assist these children with their education ... will we see an increase of policemen and how will this be paid for if he intends to cut taxes?
G Rossell

What a shower. Fresh Start and A Common Sense Revolution cheered on its way by Norman Tebbit. If the Tories fight the election with as much tact and cunning as they've demonstrated at this conference then Tony Blair is looking at another three terms in office. The Tory Party is incapable of changing and is literally suffering from Alzheimer¿s Disease. We thought they'd hit the bottom and now they've found the stairs to the cellar and therein lives The Adams Family.
Damien Stone

In my opinion, William Hague does not have the ability or dynamism to attract support without the aid of a Margaret Thatcher prop.
Chris Newhall

As much as I enjoyed listening to Mr Hague earlier today, albeit mostly for amusement value, I couldn't help seeing into the future when the Conservative Parties five, sorry six including Blackpool, guarantees are likely to be thrown back in their faces by the Labour or other party in several years time. Assuming that they get in. Did this really sound to anyone else like a speech that was little more than a repeat of how Labour convinced the voters to ditch the Tories several years ago? Just political rhetoric and no real substance. And look at Labour now!
Paul Filkin, Leicester

If the Conservatives have been "listening" why did the panel member representing them indulge in political in-fighting immediately after someone had complained of it?
Susan Small

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Lady Thatcher's views on Europe

Audience question: Have all our problems come from mainland Europe?

Michael Ancram: "No obviously not. In future, and this refers to future directives, not to the treaties that stand at the moment, we will wish to see flexibility so that you can adopt directives that suit your country but not those which don't."

Martha Lane Fox: "One of the things that I hope we've learned in the internet world in the UK is that you have to keep track and learn from people around you. Things change so fast that something I believe today could be completely wrong next week. I find it staggering the arrogance with which someone can stand up and say mainland Europe causes all these problems when I'm living in a world where I get stimulation, excitement and new business models are created daily."

Janet Street-Porter: "To go forward we've got to embrace Europe and be positive. What's amazed me about the government so far is that they haven't been bolder, and given the majority that they have they have been so cautious."

Robin Cook: "If we want to have a future as a prosperous trading nation, the European Union is where we've got to be. And it's not just a question of being there grudgingly, putting up with it, you've got to be there making a go of it and showing that you wish to make a success over it. Our clout in the rest of the world is much greater when we work with Europe."

Menzies Campbell: "It would serve these countries, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, very little good if their ability to join the European Union - which is not only for the economic advantages it would bring, but it would allow them to buttress and to stabilise the democratic institutions which they've created - if these countries were denied entry because of a bout of petulance on the part of William Hague."

You said:

On the subject of whether the Tory stance on Europe is good for the country, of course it is. So far all of the major political parties have pushed Europe to a greater or lesser degree. If the Tories are now breaking ranks and going totally euro-sceptic it should start a serious open debate on the subject and hopefully all of the pros and cons will be fully debated in the public arena. Then the British public will be able to make an informed decision as to the way forward. This will be better than the con-job inflicted upon us in 1974.
Charles Beckham

On Europe the economic arguments are so complex and frankly speculative in nature that the vast majority of the British electorate will fail to grasp the proposition in sufficient detail to contribute to the debate. Our politicians are in danger of dividing the country into the xenophobic and liberal European. In any event, the economics of either option will favour some and not others so there's no real 'right' option. I run a design and marketing company, real bona-fide living on thin air. I'm in Europe myself. I couldn't bear it if we end up like a dotty retired army major, idiosyncratic, reactionary and derided.
Lawrence Toms, 3dm Design & Marketing, Cardiff

The pro-Europeans put forward the argument that Britain or British industry will not survive outside the umbrella of the euro and by implication greater federal integration with Europe. If this is so, how is it that Britain is already in the top ten countries in the world in respect of gross production and is a major player in world economics through G7 (G8 including Russia) and on the five nation major council of the UN which covers world politics?
Vincent Hill

If Britain doesn't like the idea of a united states of Europe, why doesn't it get out; and the rest of us Europeans can get on with it? And you will never be allowed in again. And you can see whether your little experiment was right or not. But please stop moaning as a country.
Martin Maher, an Irish/European

When will Margaret Thatcher stop leading the Conservative Party and William Hague start?
Allan MacInnes

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Education: Vocational versus academic

Audience question: Should 14-year-olds be allowed to miss most of their school lessons in order to learn a trade such as plumbing?

Martha Lane Fox: "I personally think it would be a great shame if education ended at 14 and is just regarded for one purpose only and that's to get a job. Having said that I think it's appropriate at some stage to chose whether you could go into a vocational training or into a more academic training."

Janet Street Porter: "There is a problem with a lot of people getting degrees that don't fit with the world of work and at the same time I also agree that vocational skills are under-valued in this country. Perhaps the solution would be, in my opinion, to keep people at school until 18, to prepare them for life, to give them a good all-round education, feed their quest for knowledge. And then recognise that in further education vocational skills should be as highly valued and that being a builder should be terrific as getting a degree in geography."

Menzies Campbell: "We've had an 11-plus, now we're going to have a 14-plus and create once again that division between those who went to grammar school and those who went to secondary modern. I think that that division was really harmful for a whole variety of reasons."

Robin Cook: "The age when at 14, 16, 18, whenever, in which you can acquire a skill and that's your trade for life has gone. Most people nowadays are going to go through three or four different forms of careers in the course of their working life and they've got to be capable of adapting to that. That is why it is so important that they get a basic good grounding of education."

Michael Ancram: "I don't agree with Chris Woodhead on this. What this is about, it's about variety and choice. It's about having the type of education that suits the individual. You learn for life."

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General comments on the programme

You said:

I have never seen such a biased performance from a chairman of a panel. Mr Dimbleby interrogates those with anything but a New Labour view, cuts across any comment not in line with his 'obvious' bias and times his interventions to allow applause for points with which he agrees whilst cutting off good counter points. Past, more professional chairmen, must be turning in their graves!
W Dowton

Why oh why do you always pack the programme with guests against the Tories if you are not biased? It was always done when they were in government but now they are two years in opposition, to my mind, proves your bias. As for Janet Street-Porter, she has been on the two worst ever progammes. Surely you can find better panellists than her?
Roger Smith

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