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

November 4, Glasgow

On the panel were:

The topics discussed were:

New Labour, old Conservative?

Audience Question: Have New Labour become old Conservative by offering tax breaks to company directors while cutting benefits for the disabled?

Margo MacDonald: Of course. They take money from people already poor to give it to the slightly poorer. Fat cats are going to get just that little but fatter. Labour tries to present itself as fiscally correct but you cannot have a just society unless you take from people who've got too much and give it to those who don't have enough. It's called redistribution and I believe in it.

Sue Townsend: The welfare state made me a socialist. The Blair government sounds very much like Thatcher or Major. It's distressing that they can take money off disabled people, people who need security.

John Reid: This government brought in the minimum wage, increased child benefit, introduced the 10p tax for those on low wages, and gave 100 to pensioners at Christmas. We pledged to modernise the welfare state so the money we've got goes to where it's most needed. Because we're running an economically competent economy does not mean we're like the Tories. We are redistributing money from those who can afford to pay a little more, to put it towards those who can't.

Will Hutton: Tony Blair sounded like the CBI. Businesses have obligations as well as their rights not to be regulated. Alistair Darling has been telling the disabled they have lots of obligations. It's not a welfare reform but a straight welfare cut. The Labour party is finding itself on not just centre ground but centre-right. A lot more people are getting incapacity benefit than were getting it 20 years ago. There are more people in Glasgow living on incapacity benefit than on jobseeker's allowance. The solution is not to cut benefits. The reason they go on to it is because there are no jobs for people over 50. The income support they get is derisory. They become ill and depressed as a consequence of the circumstances they find themselves in. The solution is to attack the source of the problem and to level up the social security system.

Annabel Goldie: Whatever you're doing with benefits, why pick on a disadvantaged part of society?

You said:

I think that people should stop criticising the government over the introduction of tuition fees and abolition of maintenance grants in favour of loans. I am a student myself and I believe that if I prosper in life by attending university I should pay some money back in order for future generations to be able to achieve in life. It is also fair to expect families with a higher income to make a bigger contribution to tuition fees to maintain equality in education.
Phil Cunningham, London

I live in Jersey - a tax haven for the rich. Why can't Tony Blair do something about it? It is immoral for these rich people to evade UK tax. They should be made to pay tax or live further afield. There is a lot of revenue for the government being lost in this repugnant tax den that could go to the disabled.
Les McMillan, Jersey

I feel that Labour MP's who appear on Question Time should be challenged more firmly on policies that adversely affect citizens - such as the proposed new changes to the Incapacity Benefit rules - rather than allow them to state what they have already achieved. We, the electorate expect the government to implement policies which are beneficial to UK citizens, otherwise why are they in politics?
Keith Pritchard, Plymouth

I found the comments by the Labour representative on the programme about having to pay fees for undergraduates somewhat missing the point. My daughter has recently gone to Durham University to study engineering. We receive no grant support whatsoever - so far I have had to pay 1025 for fees plus 909 for this term's residential fees. We do not have a great deal of disposable income left after we have paid our mortgage etc. and I can't help thinking that whilst we (my husband and myself) collectively have a relatively high gross income - it is certainly not in 'fat-cat' proportions. Why is it always the PAYE people such as ourselves that have to pay - when company directors have so much more potential to organise tax incentives, etc?
Ruth Smith, Leyland

As one of the many people disabled while serving in the Armed Forces I will be penalised because I get an Army disablement pension. People with Army pensions already cannot claim unemployment benefit and when they are 60 have money deducted from their state retirement pension, but still pay the same taxes as anyone else.
Mary South, Poole, Dorset

Having listened to the comments from the Scottish audience about socialist policies and against the Monarchy I think it's time England declared independence from all the Celtic nations in the British Isles. We have carried them for too long through subsidies and they are utterly ungrateful.
Carl Reader, Basingstoke

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No Catholic monarch?

Audience Question: What do the panel think of the government's decision not to repeal that part of the 300 year-old Act of Settlement that denies Catholics the right to become monarch - because it was too complicated?

John Reid: I'm a Catholic. Amongst all the priorities in government should we give time to eight pieces of legislation and possibly the disestablishment of the Church of England? James Douglas Hamilton, who raised this, was minister in the Conservative government for 18 years. But it was not one of his priorities. People in my constituency are not talking about this but about the health service, education, jobs, and poverty.

Sue Townsend: I hope nobody sits on the throne one day. That's my devout wish. He is making a good point about discrimination. Tony's very fond of computers. Surely they can get it through quickly using them.

Annabel Goldie: The monarchy is a stabilising institution. I've signed the motion in the Scottish parliament to amend the Act of Settlement. If the monarchy is to adapt to modernity shouldn't the monarch be a defender of all faiths?

Will Hutton: Tony Blair should not have spoken on those terms. It was obviously a silly thing. It's much more likely that Britain moves to a federal, republican structure than rewrite the Act of Settlement.

Margo MacDonald: We all worship the same God. It's not about the throne but discrimination against folk who are Catholic.

You said:

How can we ever hope to help bring peace and harmony in Northern Ireland, torn apart by religious discrimination, when we are discriminating amongst ourselves? Disestablishment of the Church would seem an eminently sensible solution. It is not the "horrific" principle it is made out to be. It was done in France at the beginning of the century. At first there was a tremendous upheaval and led to some excessive reactions on both sides, but it soon settled down to a healthy normality. Separation of Church and State is not synonymous with rejection. Both can work and live alongside each other, in respect and collaboration creating, in certain ways, a much healthier society. Abolition of the Act of Settlement would only help to show the way towards eliminating at least one discrimination - that on religious grounds - and in my opinion is well overdue.
Lilian O'Callaghan, London

Catholics complain about the sectarianism in Scotland which is wrong but fight for the present system of a separate education which does nothing but breed sectarian behaviour at an early age. This especially true when RC schools always seem to be in better condition than the non-denominational schools where the majority of children are educated. People must remember there is discrimination on both sides.
Joe Russo, Glasgow

On the question of a Catholic monarchy I agree with John Reid. It is not a priority, let the government concentrate on the important issues like poverty and health etc. If a Catholic desperately wants to marry into the monarchy (but to be honest who would want to!)the issue should be raised, but until then it is not really necessary.
Nicola Richards, Sunderland

I too am a Catholic and I can think of better things to do than trying to sort out the Act of Settlement and the Church of England. Catholics do very well with having an established church. Poverty both at home and in the Third World and many other things like that are much higher up on my list than qualifying as a Catholic to marry the heir to the throne!
Una Barry, London

Some years ago, Prince Charles made clear that when he becomes King, he would like to become "Defender of Faith", not "Defender of THE Faith". Surely this resolves the whole argument about allowing Catholics, Muslims or gay Martians to become Monarch?
Andy Stanney, Lincoln

More than one member of this week's panel expressed the view that people with a religious faith of any kind were preferable to those with no faith at all. As one of the latter, I found their remarks insulting. Why should people who believe in supernatural phenomena such as gods, devils, angels and virgin births be regarded as preferable to those who don't? Surely it is one's morals that count, not one's religion.
Margarita, Caernarfon

I've always thought that the title "Defender of the Faith" was given to Henry VIII by the then Pope. In other words, the faith Henry VIII was defending was the Catholic faith. He just kept and passed on the title to future monarchs after he chopped in his ageing wife for a younger model who only lasted three years and for whom he sacked the monasteries, kept the booty, and formed the Church of England. Fast forward a couple of hundred years or so and a Dutch aristocrat William would only marry Queen Mary on the understanding he would be joint ruler, not consort, as is the Duke of Edinburgh. He also added a codicile to the marriage contract that, in future, no Catholic would be allowed to marry a Protestant, British monarch. And wasn't this the same William of Orange who fought his traditional enemy, France, in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne? And the Orangemen have been marching ever since. If it weren't for the fact the Pope would not allow Henry VIII to divorce, there would have been no need for the Church of England in the first place. So why does divorce even come into the equation?
Maggie Snell, London

Will there ever be a protestant Pope?
Andrew Garner, Harlow

Why can't the queen say she has no objection to Catholics marrying in.
Les McMillan, Jersey

This is 1999; the issue of religion applied over three hundred years ago. In this day and age we are living in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith society, with Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Mormons, Wiccans etc. Surely the issue should be that the monarch should be the defender of all faiths that exist within their realm and domains, regardless of which one(s) they wish to practice.
J. Francis, London

I am wholly in support of the audience and the majority of panel members in calling for the abolition of the Act of Settlement. This Act is a dinosaur from the days of extreme prejudice and is insulting to the half-million Catholics in the UK. I wonder what would be said if ethnic groups were so specifically discriminated against with the force of legislation. Whilst I largely agree with the governments policy and difficulty with Parliamentary time, it is no excuse to leave a distasteful piece of anachronistic legislation on the Statute book.
Michael Lawler, Anglesey

Why fix something that isn't broken?
Richard Scoffield, Prestatyn

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Charles & boys fox-hunting

Audience Question: Does the panel think that Prince Charles is entitled to take his sons fox-hunting or has it become too political?

Annabel Goldie: He's entitled as a father to do whatever he wants. The issue has become very important because the government has peculiar priorities.

Margo MacDonald: It's not illegal. If that's what he believes he should inculcate in his young ones, so be it.

Will Hutton: Charles wants to make political interventions over the countryside, architecture, GM foods, etc. Taking his children fox-hunting will be seen as political position. He can't have it both ways. The elected government is manoeuvring to do something about it. The majority, even in rural areas, are against it.

John Reid: If it's legal then they can do what they want. I don't think Charles took his family out because there is a debate going on about it. The prime minister said there would be a vote about it.

Sue Townsend: I can't believe this subject has dominated British politics for 30 years. For that class it's a rite of passage. They're either royals and they shut up and we have the mystery or they're real people and they lose their privileges.

You said:

Fox hunting with hounds is a sport that is followed many thousands of ordinary people week after week through the season. It is not exclusive. If there was any political element in the Prince's decision to take his family hunting then it was introduced by newspapers. If they had not chosen to splash the information across their pages and introduce the political agenda the event would have passed for what it actually was: a middle aged man encouraging his sons to share his pleasure in engaging in a legal pastime that happens to offend some people. For the last four or five years I have done the same with my daughter and tomorrow many men will encourage their offspring to accompany them to football matches. While the spectacle of twenty-two obscenely overpaid "sportsmen" kicking a ball around a field is deeply offensive to me it is not political, just popular.
Nick Onslow, Canterbury

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Mr Hague and Mr Portillo

Audience Question: Should Mr Hague feel threatened now that Mr Portillo has landed a very safe seat?

Will Hutton: Yes, if I was Hague I should be jolly worried. Michael Portillo has star quality. He's a very clever conservative. He talks about using right-wing ideas to enfranchise the mass of people. Coming from the right, if he becomes leader he will tack the party back to the centre. Hague has no choice but to bring him back into the shadow cabinet.

Annabel Goldie: William Hague should be very reassured. Michael Portillo is a very able and sure-footed lieutenant. The party wouldn't bear contemplating another leader. Tony Blair should be worried.

John Reid: William Hague has allowed the Conservative Party to become the heirs of Thatcher. Portillo is the rabid right-winger he always is coming into a rabid right-wing party. Portillo will be remembered for his free market beliefs, his poll tax and his anti-European beliefs.

Margo MacDonald: It's a great idea having another Tory of quality. Portillo's going to create more interest in the Tory party. It's silly of John to not recognise that someone can be reborn politically. You were reborn. You used to be a socialist.

John Reid (To Margo MacDonald): I'd be happy to debate the meaning of socialism with you on any platform.

Sue Townsend: If I was Hague I would be worried. William Hague may do well to get a hair transplant. One of Portillos's big advantages is his big, thick head of hair.

You said:

John Reid's dismissal of Michael Portillo as an unreformed right-wing, bigot struck me as perhaps a little hypocritical. His argument rested on the premise that a politician cannot reasonably alter his political persuasion during the course of an active career. What rot! Mr. Reid himself certainly appears to have managed it. Indeed had he remained the socialist he once was he might find himself on the backbenches, next to Mr Livingstone. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip. Perhaps New Labour itself is a charade, instigated by reformers, but in fact not all that different to the Old version. New Labour along with Mr. Portillo are examples of political rebirth. A very exciting prospect it is too!
Mark Taylor, Canterbury

I think Portillo will go straight to the top if William Hague does not do well in the next election.
David A Howes, Desborough

I don't believe that Michael Portillo is a good thing for the Conservatives as he is still remembered as part of the old Conservative legacy.
Colin Blatchford-Brown, Worthing

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Railtrack profits

Audience Question: Do Railtrack's rise in profits show that they put profits before passengers?

Annabel Goldie: No, but they are well placed to look at investment. They responded well to the Paddington crash.

Margo MacDonald: Railtrack's record is not a proud one. The government should take a stake in Railtrack and play a proactive role in taking care of passengers. Gordon Brown's got a wad of money stacked up. But the government doesn't believe in public services anymore.

Will Hutton: Railtrack have a huge investment programme and they are going to have to make even more profit to justify it to their shareholders. The people of Britain won't put up with it. It's a loss-making public service and for the investment to happen the state will have to take a stake in Railtrack. And it will happen within three to five years.

John Reid: Their profits are excessive and they should put more money into the infrastructure. The regulator has the power to make them do it. That is the key priority. Why should we give Railtrack 8,000m of taxpayer's money after they've taken the money out.

Sue Townsend: The ideal thing would be to buy back the whole lot. We didn't value it when we had it. You've now got an incredibly tangled web of a system. When a train breaks down 17 people have to be informed. It would cost billions, perhaps even as much as a couple of Harrier jets.

You said:

Railtrack, declaring such vast profits, should not have a huge reinvestment policy - it should be equivalent to a sum that would allow completely safety systems without cost to the customer and without profit. The rail system is a service provided for the people. If Railtrack wish to make vast profits they should make the services they provide attractive to industry.
Stewart Hyde, Southend-on-Sea

Clearly the politicians and the media have little knowledge of "profit" concerning companies. Railtrack is an easy target because of the recent and appalling Paddington accident. However, I think people should be made aware that money invested in fixed assets is not deducted from any company's profits, let alone Railtrack. I run my own company, and anyone in my position knows that, if you invest in capital assets such as infrastructure, safety systems, or any other fixed asset this does not get deducted from your profits. The only reduction is your cash position.
Iain Crockatt, Aylesbury

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Women in trousers

Audience Question: Does it matter if women wear trousers to work or not? And don't the women wear the trousers anyway?

Margo MacDonald: It's a piece of nonsense. Any man who makes that decision should be sacked.

Annabel Goldie: It is practical for women to wear whatever they're comfortable in. To discriminate against it.

Will Hutton: It's women's business and it's outrageous that there's any intervention at all. And what a sad day it is for British golf as well.

Sue Townsend: I can't believe this happens in this day and age. I hope it was a misprint in the Eurostar rule. They say in a security situation the women must be able to be identified by their legs. They are dinosaurs.

John Reid: It's not just wrong, you wonder what the climate's like on the planet these people live on.

You said:

I was rather disappointed that nobody on the panel pointed out the gross inequality in dress codes between men and women. Whereas trouser suits are the only outfit that most women are not allowed to wear to work, men must wear them and have no scope for personal expression except in the colour of their shirt and tie. I think we need more fairness towards men in this matter. They should be allowed more flexibility (for example, roll neck jumpers instead of shirt and tie). By the same token, we women have flexibility enough, and if Eurostar wants to insist on skirts, why not? Personally I think it looks smarter.
Rachel Beckett

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