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


October 21, London

On the panel were:

The topics discussed this week were:


The Chinese president's visit

Audience Question: Is it hypocritical to entertain the Chinese president when general Pinochet is held under house arrest?

John Redwood: This government is hypocritical in the way it has handled foreign affairs generally. Their ethical foreign policy is applied only in certain cases when they think it's easy to win. They must explain why they have turned down the wishes of the Chilean democracy. We urged the government to allow peaceful protest but I think the police have been too heavy-handed. We have a tradition of peaceful protest. Of course the Home Secretary knew about it. He should have intervened. We should make clear to our visitors our unhappiness over Chinese human rights violations.

Beatrix Campbell: For the first time we seem to be at one as a society in endorsing an ethical foreign policy. Quite what that means we are working out and the challenge to this government is serious - Let's see what your ethical foreign policy amounts to. But in the case of China something clearly is more important than human rights. What we want is that vast market.

Keith Vaz: It's quite right he should be here as a guest of the government, as part of a reciprocal arrangment. At every opportunity the government has raised the issue of human rights. We should have a policy of engagement because it leads to reform. We keep this dialogue going. Positive moves have been made, but I can't give you a list of every single political prisoner who's been released. China is an important global player with a fifth of the world's population. Policing is not a matter for the government and the police acted as they deemed to be appropriate. If people rush up to the sovereign and a visiting head of state of course it is right that the police should take direct action. I have no complaint over their actions.

David Mellor: The decision to engage in trade is not unreasonable, but at the end of the day countries have to deal with each other on a civilised basis. The folly of this is to think it isn't the job of foreign policy to deal with your friends and enemies alike. The Metropolitan Police appeared to ape their Chinese confrères in Tiannenmen Square suppressing the normal rights of people to protest. Some advice to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Paul Condon: Catch the killers of Jill Dando and leave people waving banners alone. We would not have tolerated this when I was a home office minister. If the Chinese president comes here he must see Britain in all its glorious variety, not a version courtesy of the police taking down banners.

Jenny Tonge: Those scenes of our policemen arresting peaceful demonstrators made me shiver. We cannot have human rights world-wide without a cost to ourselves. We sell arms and we trade with China but we must curtail that if we want to do something about human rights. There is a cost to ourselves and it doesn't come completely free. In Switzerland there were demonstrations when the Chinese president visited and he was offended and they lost trade because of it.

You said:

I enjoyed Keith Vaz's dismal attempt to defend the visit of the Chinese president. If "we should have a policy of engagement because it leads to reform" then let's engage with Milosevic and Hussein as well. In fact invite General Pinochet to the party at the palace as well. As I see it there is little difference between these four tyrants.
J Park, Aberdeen

Isn't it interesting that in 1982 it was in our interests for Chile to assist in our war with Argentina. Today it is in our interests to further trade with China. In 1982 no one would have dreamed of arresting Pinoche, In 1999 the Chinese President is an honoured guest.... in 2010... who knows. Isn't it time our politicians were honest and told us who we welcome and why?
Charles Beckham, Darlington

Can any Asian or black MP be proud to serve a nation that sells weapons to your land of origin and then has the audacity to talk about human rights?
Krishan Canagasabey, Letchworth

I believe that if the government did not have a say in the way police acted then they should have a rethink on how people in such powerful jobs got there. The way police behaved was the most revolting thing I have seen in this country since the violent way police threatened, aggravated and intimidated miners during the last strike.
Mike Warrington, Doncaster

Would the government have handled General Pinochet differently if he were the leader of an untapped market as huge as China?
Donna Brown, Dundee

With the recent suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth and the show of solidarity between its member countries. Why does the International Community as a whole seem to turn a blind eye to the human rights record of China in its unlawful invasion of Tibet, and yet still court and coerce communist leader Jiang in his state visit of the UK and still deny reports & official findings from Amnesty & other international aid/ health agencies of what is continually happening in occupied Tibet?
Dave, London

The police should be protecting the right of protestors to demonstrate not moving them on. I think they should now be invited to Buckingham Palace and given a formal apology.
David Rule, London

David Mellor commented unfavourably on police action against protesters, and mentioned that this was not the sort of action he would wish to see the police take. Perhaps he can recall the miners' strike in '84 and the way in which the Conservative government used the Police on that occasion.
David Cousins, Southwell, Notts

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Blair's beef with teachers

Audience Question: Who are more conservative, teachers or Tony Blair?

David Mellor: I don't know where that rhetoric's going to get him. Vilifying teachers won't do any good. When we were in government a determined attempt was made for parents to know what was going on in schools and to remove the bureaucracy and give schools a chance to use their own resources. But it's a serious problem if the teaching unions are opposed to change. Where the prime minister gets it wrong is suddenly conservatism has become his bogey word. He's ridden into office on the back of a sort of conservatism and he should keep a civil tongue in his head about conservatism now.

Jenny Tonge: He has chastised teachers for using poverty and poor surroundings as an excuse for children's poor performance. He's also got a thing about doctors just like the last government. He accuses them of not wanting change but there's been nothing but change for the last 20 years. I'm sick of the way he attacks professionals who we depend upon to deliver our services. The bureaucracy that teachers, medics and nurses have to face is appalling.

Beatrix Campbell: I was wondering who is he going to blame next? It'll be children. Are teachers worth targeting in this way? No. He won't target the conservative forces with a big c, and lots of capital behind them. He targets truculent public services that have been disinvested in for years. It's not about teachers at all, but about organised constituencies of public servants who he doesn't like. Just like he doesn't like his old party very much. He doesn't see the dynamism in democratic, public environments because he doesn't have any experience in them, does he? He objects to them because they are organised.

Keith Vaz: He said that the vast majority of teachers do fantastic work. Education is the passion of this government. He has attacked those on the left and the right who don't want to modernise our schools and improve standards. Schools were chronically underfunded for 18 years by the Conservative government.

John Redwood: We have issued a magnificent policy document. We have listened and learned and we see this government is killing schools with bureaucracy. You don't lead a revolution for higher educational standards by attacking the very people who are going to raise the standards for you.

You said:

Tony Blair has a great deal of cheek accusing health and education of failing to change when his govt fails to pay nurses, teachers, and doctors a wage equivalent to their skills while expecting more from these over-stretched services. That is a very conservative attitude.
Sanjiv Ahluwalia, Edgware, London

As a hard working teacher in inner-city Bradford I read Tony Blair's recent remarks with interest. I wonder when he will begin to address the issue of 'the culture of excuses' now being displayed in government.
Ray Sutcliffe, Bradford

The debate on education keeps referring to the amounts being invested in education. The school I work in has had it's budget cut by £150,000. I would like to know how many other schools have had budget cuts and where has the money gone?
John McDonald, Canterbury

I am a newly qualified Primary School Teacher. I left a very well-paid job to undertake my degree, and I have this week secured my first teaching job. Whilst recently visiting McDonald's I saw an advert for an Assistant Manager job paying £16,500 pa. I have trained for 3 years, am up to my neck in student debt, and I will be responsible for the academic, spiritual and moral welfare of young children. For that responsibility I will receive less renumeration than a person working in a fast food restaurant. And we wonder why you can't keep graduates in education ! Can anyone tell me what's going on?
A Gilbert, Reading

If education is doing so badly, how come more and more people are passing and with better grades?
P O'Malley, Wolverhampton

No one touched on the subject of special education and the policy of inclusion for ALL SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN. I speak from experience, being the parent of two autistic children. The schools do not know what is going to hit them very soon as they are going to be asked to include ALL special needs children, and from bitter experience I know that they will not be given the support, manpower and resources to do this successfully. It will lead to many children being excluded as the schools cannot meet their particular needs or cope with the behaviour which will result from their frustration at being misunderstood. I expect the government view this policy as a money saver, but in the long run it is going to be a disaster on the scale of Care in the Community.
Mark Gayfer

For the first time in a long time I (a very concerned parent) am actually hearing someone say what has been an observation of lots of us - and that is that TOO MANY excuses are made to justify poor standards. Teachers are too quick to defend ALL colleagues without considering that it might JUST BE POSSIBLE that there IS dead wood amongst them. The teaching profession seems to be littered with a lot of undesirable teachers AND ineffectual headstaff. Don't let the teachers tell you there are too many immigrants, class sizes are too big, the national curriculum is unreasonable or any more excuses. If we allow teachers' unions to permit complacency to set in, then the whole education industry will be no better than being on a dole queue waiting for one's cheque to come in for want of something better to do with one's life.
Karen Meidl, London

Schoolteachers in particular are continually being targeted by the Labour government for poor performance. How do we measure our elected members of parliament's performance, what are their performance indicators?
George Thomas, Merseyside

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William Hague's Euro-policy

Audience Question: In a recent survey 56% of respondents said they would not vote Conservative because of William Hague's Europe policy. Is this a Tory own-goal?

John Redwood: I know that William's policy on Europe is extremely popular - that is why we won the European election. We made Europe the issue in the European election. Labour didn't want to talk about Europe at all because their attitude was unpopular with the electorate. This is one of the best policies we've got and it's going to help us win the election.

David Mellor: Opinion polls don't bother me. I think William Hague is right. I can't stomach the single currency because it is a profound economic change brought about for political reasons and it cannot work. It's nothing to do with being pro- or anti-Europe. Heseltine and Patten have got to say what they believe.

Jenny Tonge: William Hague is leading a single-issue party and has had it. They're not worried about the good of our country but only the good of the Conservative party. We haven't had a proper debate with people being given the pros or the cons of having a single currency. All we have is this hysterical outburst from one side or the other.

Keith Vaz: The Euro-sceptics have taken over Conservative policy. The logical conclusion of their policy is that they will withdraw from the European Community. The other 14 members of the EC won't stand for the renegotiation of treaties. 3.5m jobs and 700,000 business depend on trade with Europe. We support the principle of a successful Euro. If we meet the economic conditions to join the Euro we will have a referendum.

Beatrix Campbell: The party has a complete identity crisis. There aren't any other issues they can do anything about. The nation is shifting away from the terrible interregnum of 18 years of Tory rule. They've now lost the plot. They are clinging to a past that's finished.

You said:

In the economic area, as well as in social laws, the UK is the 'sick man' of western Europe. Not to mention its political instability, and more potential instability in the form of Mr Hague's Euro-sceptic antics. The UK should not join the new currency, or stay in the EC. Good bye, and good riddance.
Louis Zadelaar, The Hague, Holland

Eight countries have tried the Euro and they are 'happy' with the decision. Decimalisation worked: there was no going back from that.
Sue Mason, Macclesfield

I'm a Labour supporter but Keith Vaz floundered when he was asked about the fact that the Euro might fail and what would we do then. The fact is our currency is weak now - Black Wednesday proved that. If we shared one currency with Europe across Europe then you are looking at a strong currency. Is a speculator going to speculate against a currency that represents 25 countries. George Soros can easily choose one weak currency to bet against but will he bet against a currency shared by 25 countries. I think not. It's the killer argument.
Damien Stone, Wimborne

How can the Government argue we can play a leading role in Europe, when they are also saying we won't be able to amend or renegotiate any E.U treaties? The whole idea that the Euro will be good for Britain is absolute rubbish in my opinion, the present unemployment level in the Eurozone is 11%, Britain's is around 5.6% of the workforce, Switzerland's and Norway's (both of whom are outside the EU altogether) have unemployment at around 4%. 50% of our exports go to countries within the EU while 80% of Switzerland's and Norway's also go to EU members, so being out of the EU doesn't seem to have harmed their exports.
Steve Hanwell, Northampton

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Ken for Mayor of London?

Audience Question: Does the panel agree that plans for an electoral college to choose a Labour candidate for the Mayor of London amounts to breaking Ken Livingstone's legs?

Beatrix Campbell: It's a terrible disgrace. If he's going to win the election, why don't they let him win for Labour. There's an assumption that the kinds of things Ken stood for at the GLC are disgraceful and loony. What were they? Things like cutting fares and so increasing the use of public transport by 15%. Things like whether the staff at county hall reflected the population of London. Whether there were any Black staff, women and disabled people represented. If that kind of stuff is loony then it confirms everybody's view that this government truly is conservative (with a small c). These were brief attempts to modernise the culture of Labourism and of all of the people of London, before they were abolished by the Tories.

Keith Vaz: It's the right method of choosing a candidate for Labour. It's been used to choose the leaders of the Labour party and the Welsh assembly. If was voting I would vote for Frank Dobson. You are having one person, one vote within the electoral college for members. A number of trade unions have decided to ballot. God help us if Jeffrey Archer becomes the Mayor of London.

Jenny Tonge: I don't care what method they use to chose between these re-tread politicians! Ken Livingstone is popular but he brought the destruction of the GLC upon himself. The Lib Dems have always had one man, one vote, that's why we've chosen Susan Kramer.

John Redwood: I'm a great believer in one member, one vote. We got to a candidate much earlier than Labour and we're wondering if they'll have a candidate by the time of the election. I do defend Ken's right to stand, and it would be sensible if Labour have any democracy within them to use one member, one vote.

David Dimbleby (to David Mellor): And you'll be voting for Jeffrey Archer will you?

David Mellor: Definitely not. I don't think Jeffrey Archer is fit to be Mayor of London and I shall certainly not be voting for him.

You said:

I agreed with David Mellor on: Mr Hague's attitude to Europe, Mr Blair's attitude to the teachers, entertaining the Chinese and England's bid for the World Cup in 2006, BUT......what is wrong with Jeffery Archer for mayor?
Alex Ashworth, Belvedere, Kent

I think that Mellor should have been allowed to publicly support Livingstone, why not say I will vote for him?
Ian Govendir, Wembley, London

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Ticket problems and England 2006

Audience Question: How can we expect to run a successful bid for the World Cup in 2006 when we can't even deal with ticket allocation in an England versus Scotland game?

David Mellor: That's a storm in a teacup. There's a game in Scotland that Scottish people are free to go to. Tickets are sold for the game at Wembley by the Scottish Football Association. Wembley are trying to ensure that ordinary fans who haven't been members of clubs can get a ticket. We'd love for everyone to be able to go to a match and put their arms around each other. Alas we don't live in a world like that. The worst thing that can happen for the bid is if you abandon segregation and there's a huge punch-up at Wembley.

John Redwood: I hope everyone goes to the game and it is trouble-free.

Beatrix Campbell: There is a crisis about ordinary football fans' access to games. They're finding it increasingly difficult to get to games.

Keith Vaz: The allocation has to be fair. Then the image of the game will be improved enormously.

Jenny Tonge: I'd love to see the World Cup here in 2006.

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