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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 08:51 GMT
February 17, London
The panellists this week were:
Audience Question: Has Peter Mandelson blown the chance of lasting peace in Northern Ireland by pandering to a Unionist agenda?
Michael Heseltine: The responsibility for what has happened lies with Sinn Fein and the IRA. The clearest undertakings were given that they would disarm. Not a gun, not a bullet were handed in. The basis for trust does not exist.
Ian Hislop: It's extraordinary that Gerry Adams should say you're shooting the messenger. There are precedents for decommissioning for instance in Rhodesia. Seamus Mallon said 'All we want to know is if and when'.
Glenys Kinnock: Allocating blame is not appropriate. The Good Friday Agreement was a monumental achievement which showed the people of Ireland want peace. It's better if politicians step back and allow those centrally involved in the negotiations to get on with it.
Roger Scruton: There's no such thing as a nationalist community in Northern Ireland. The people who pretend to speak for them, like Sinn Fein, are allied with criminals. The fact that Sinn Fein is posing as an intermediary is neither here nor there.
I am a twenty-two year old graduate, with no criminal
record nor any criminal tendencies. However, I was horrified to be branded a
"criminal" simply because I exercise my democratic right to vote for a
legitimate political party. How dare he make such a sweeping and
ill-informed statement about Sinn Fein voters and supporters. I think
Roger Scruton should do the decent thing and apologise for the offence he
has caused to Irish Republicans.
To Roger Scruton: Not everyone who supports Sinn Fein and its political mandate is a criminal.
Is a democratic government a concession to Republicans? Is a fair and impartial police force a concession? Is the right to be represented by the people you voted for a concession? Surly these are the democratic principals that any peaceful society must be built upon.
At what point would decommissioning be carried out to the satisfaction of everybody ? There is nothing to stop the IRA depositing a million guns in front of David Trimble and then going out and buying another million the next day. The issue is not having the guns, it is using or not using them. For the sake of every right-minded person, just get on with it, and bring peace to a nation that deserves it.
Roger Scruton implied that all nationalists voters on the Island of Ireland are terrorists. I am an Irish Catholic from the town of Omagh and was present there on the 15th August 1998. I am deeply offended by his comments, suggesting that because I am a nationalist that I agree with what happened that day. Mr Scruton should perhaps return to his hounds and leave the politics of Ireland to the politicians.
The Good Friday agreement stated May was the date for the handing over of all arms. The Unionists set an arbitrary date of the end of January on a unilateral basis. I would have agreed with the action taken had it been taken in May after the agreed date. Until then the responsibility for the break-up is entirely with David Trimble and his party of bigots, who are terrified about having to allow the 'other community' to share what should already be theirs. Reinstate the N. Ireland Assembly and ensure that the peace process, as voted for by the vast majority of people in both parts of Ireland, is carried out according to their wishes.
Is it not time that Gerry Adams shed the fallacy that Sinn Fein and the IRA are two separate organisations. If what he says is true then Sinn Fein/IRA have apparently split. I doubt it considering his past and secret ambitions. They say that bombs and violence do not work, they have until now.
Is it acceptable for the UDA to do as the UVF have done in the past - bury their weapons and pretend they didn't exist - until the next time they get upset? While there is no doubt the IRA has a large stockpile of weapons, they are not the only ones.
Keep the pound - or William Hague?
Audience Question: William Hague has begun his pre-election 'Keep the pound' tour. Should the Conservative Party keep William Hague as it's leader?
Ian Hislop: They haven't got a choice. They're in a shambles at the moment. If they dump him they'll look even more in a shambles. At the moment they can't do worse than keeping Hague.
Glenys Kinnock: He has been a sad case going around in a van or lorry. Apparently he turns up in his car and leaps out and gets into the van. Next week the organisation Britain in Europe, which Michael and I support, will begin a campaign informing the public on the effect of the Euro on jobs.
Roger Scruton: It takes an awful lot of courage to get up on the back of a van. For that reason I support him. People know as much about it as whether Heidegger is a better philosopher than Sartre. I don't understand the economic issue. As an issue of national identity and sovereignty I am in favour of keeping the pound.
Michael Heseltine: He's going to lead the Tories into the next election and will do better than many commentators think. It is in this country's interests to join the Euro when the economic conditions are right. The British media engages in a constant battle to enhance Euro-scepticism. The main policy is not going to be in saving the pound. The big issues will be the economy, education, and health.
The panel and audience for tonight's Question Time were heavily loaded with
Europhiles and no airing of the opposite view was permitted in spite of the
fact that opinion polls show that a large majority of the British
population are in favour of keeping the pound. William Hague's public
meetings were ridiculed - but he is at least addressing open meetings
and listening to public comment, Tony Blair doesn't have the guts to do
that, all his meetings are packed with his yes men. If this were an
isolated case it would be unimportant but news bulletins and current
affairs programmes alike refuse to allow open and balanced discussion of
the pros and cons of the most vital decision the people of this country
will ever have to take. The BBC is no longer fit to present balanced views prior to a referendum on the Euro.
Mr Heseltine said that the Euro would not be an issue at the next election - the issues would be what they always are. The economy? We will give up control of that entirely if we join the single currency so it is difficult to see how it could be an issue of any further relevance for debate.
On the issue of the pound - this country should focus on the global economy and not the `local' European economy - why have the Euro - why not have the English dollar?
The precedent for saving the Pound and joining the Euro has already been set. Clydesdale Bank, Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank of Scotland notes are legal tender in England and are worth the same under the Act of Union. We can have monetary union and the "little Englanders" can keep the Queen's head on our notes.
When is Blair going to get his Euro van out on the road to argue his case for the Euro?
Michael Heseltine vs Michael Portillo
Audience Question: Does the panel believe that Michael Heseltine was a greater threat to the Tory leadership than Michael Portillo is now?
Michael Heseltine: I wasn't a threat to the leadership. I supported the leadership. But Mrs Thatcher broke the conventions of the constitutional relationships between government and prime minister. I wasn't going to accept it.
Ian Hislop: He wasn't a threat at all.
Roger Scruton: Politicians always say they are motivated by principle rather than by interest.
Waterhouse and adoption reform
Audience Question: Does today's announcement from the prime minister's office on reform of adoption law mean we'll see a Waterhouse report in 10 years time on abuse in adopted homes?
Glenys Kinnock: It's right to identify ways of avoiding putting children in care. Now we need to make sure that kind of thing never happens again. Adoption needs to be easier but not if it means children go into homes that are unsuitable.
Roger Scruton: What children need is generous, undemanding love of a non-sexual kind. Children in the modern world are finding this increasingly hard to find. The rules at the moment are irrelevant. They're about the race or the culture of the adoptive parents.
Ian Hislop: There are some children who no one else is prepared to look after. This week that report does not answer basic questions about why the council, police, social services and the Welsh office did nothing for 20 years. No blame is put on any individual for the failure to notice what was going on.
Michael Heseltine: We should try to speed up the process of fostering and adoption, within proper controls, because that is the best way of bringing up children. We should separate the regulation from the ownership of these homes.
I was absolutely dismayed to hear the way the Question Time panel dealt with the subject of the Welsh child abuse scandal. The discussion rapidly degenerated into useless attacks. The first issue was to do with the Prime Minister's steps towards making it easier to adopt children from these homes, and to my mind, makes the most sense in the circumstances. The secrecy and mysticism surrounding child sexual abuse is the worst problem and I sympathised with Ian Hislop in attempting to break the seal on mass institutional incompetence. It was wonderful to hear the young man in the audience speak so bravely and effectively. It was useful to the debate and refreshing in its honesty. The response from Michael Hesletine was curious and insulting to the young man. I tend to imagine the lie when we hear a politician, paid to administer truth to the powerful, begin a speech on television, "the truth is¿" The hasty and cowardly comments suggested that 'British' social services were above reproach and that the man should effectively shut up.
There will never be sufficient qualified staff working in residential home settings as long as the pay is as low as it is at present.
Adoption may be the only chance a child has of having a decent upbringing. Who can actually forecast who turns out to be Bad Parents? How can anybody know who is going to be a "decent parenting couple"? Should the fact that a couple of wanna-be parents are "too fat" hinder the progress of a child? Personally I'd rather have two fat healthy parents than
a group of people employed to look after many children. And not being able to
give emotional support and compassion because they have their own families
to attend to, basically leaving the poor child in the dark corner of the room
longing for his mother or father or both to walk in and say goodnight.
The whole thing just reveals the cosy, middle class cartel in Britain that runs the police, local authorities, inspectorates, etc. Alison Taylor in yesterday's Daily Telegraph says she first reported it in 1986. She was labelled subversive by the police in 1987 and 1991 and by inspectors of the home.
I realise that steps need to be taken to stop any future abuse rings as exposed in Wales, but should we not also be looking at making the punishment for these crimes for heavier than they are now - castration springs to mind.
I agree with Hislop that all the people involved should be named and publicly shamed. I am sick of these so-called professionals getting away with such crimes. As for a child advocate how about recruiting the people who have survived such abuse? Or is it that these crimes go too far up the establishment ladder so everyone is protecting everyone else.
I know from first-hand experience that the North Wales Police are stupid, incompetent and corrupt. In June 1997 when an ex-music pupil wrongly accused me of sexual abuse, the North Wales Police carried out an intrusive and most unfair investigation, being determined to build a sensational case on no evidence whatsoever. I was arrested and charged with indictments so preposterous that they could never really justify being brought to court. I had to leave my home and work immediately. As a result of gossip and false information, some of it supplied by N Wales police, I was forced to resign my job as Organist of St. Asaph Cathedral, thus being made homeless and 15 months of absolute hell. The CPS failed to release to the defence essential medical documents relating to my accuser's mental state at the time - information which could have stopped the case in its tracks.
Punishing victims of bullying
Audience Question: Should the bullies at a school be allowed to continue in class whilst the victim is isolated?
Ian Hislop: It seems extraordinary. If you isolate the bullied child then they are even more bullied. Unless the situation is completely desperate having a person with a bodyguard is the wrong solution.
Roger Scruton: Expulsion means that they go and bully elsewhere. Removing the right of teachers to use corporal punishment has made the situation very difficult. The proper treatment of bullies is a real thrashing.
Michael Heseltine: I would not tolerate a situation where the bullied child has been punished instead of the bullies. You should never give in to the bully.
Glenys Kinnock: That's a terrible thing to say. I wondered why the girl's mother has wheeled her out in the media all day from the Today programme until the evening news. I was a teacher for 30 years and I don't believe that they are not trying to deal with it.
If you don't take action to train children then you are just going to have to send them to jail when they continue the same activities in later life. By refusing to punish them you are failing the victim, failing society and failing the bullying child by failing to teach them acceptable social behaviour. But then again that's what political correctness is all about - the abdication of responsibility in favour of soundbites.
Roger Scruton's comment regarding 'thrashing' as being the answer is ludicrous. During my formative years I found myself at the mercy of the nuns who taught us. A return of corporal punishment in schools in my own opinion would merely leave bullying in the hands of the teachers. Those responsible for the abuse of children in their care should not only be named but charged and dealt with in the shape of custodial sentences.
My partner, who is a teacher, says that he is sometimes intimidated by 13 and 14 year old kids at his school and would hate to be the same age and have to deal with the abuse that they regularly dole out. He feels it is only his age and life experience as well as his position of authority that gives him some protection - what chance does that poor girl have?
Isn't one of the most effective ways to improve school discipline for parents to work in partnership with and in support of teachers, and for teachers to be given the same recognition and respect that they receive in other European countries?
Audience Question: Is the current anti-fur protest motivated by anything other than misplaced sentimentality?
Roger Scruton: All sentimentality is misplaced. I don't see why breeding animals for their fur is wrong whereas breeding them for their meat and skins is acceptable.
Ian Hislop: It's classic that the fashion industry, which is full of vacuous people, should pick up on one silly issue.
Michael Heseltine: If you accept the supremacy of the species you are logically taken down this road.
Glenys Kinnock: I agree with people who protest about wearing expensive furs.
The real issue here is animal welfare, not the wearing of furs or even
chicken feathers. I think most people would agree that if we really care for animals then our
main concerns should be:
This is not an Animals Rights issue but a battle of social classes. Hunting and Fur it is affordable by the rich so is cruel. Fishing, leather goods and eating meat products is affordable by all classes so it is not cruel. We never hear on the media of any campaigns outside butchers shops, nor cattle let loose into the wild. Furthermore, the government supports the meat industry but not the fur industry. Are they scared to loose the majority vote?
Most people who make a moral stand about one issue will be led to make a stand about others, altering their life style practices accordingly. If you don't believe me try asking the protestors outside of Huntingdon Life Sciences if they want a Big Mac! Even in instances where this is not the case isn't it better to take one step, albeit a teensy weensy one, in the right direction than to do nothing at all?
Our species has come up with a remarkable range of myths and excuses to condone their barbarity to other species; making money, scientific research, making money, country tradition, making money, freedom of choice, making money etc. To add intellectual purity to them is ingenious.
I have to agree with the panel on the question of campaigns over fur. It is true that those who criticise fur but eat meat and/or wear leather are hypocrites. But most people who campaign against fur are vegetarian or vegan. Any use of animals is wrong, whether for fur, leather, food or experimentation. With alternatives available and no need for meat or fish in our diets it is only through self interest, both corporate profits and personal vanity, that people do not take them.
General comments on the programme:
I was fairly surprised to find that the soi-disant 'philosopher' Roger Scruton was quite so staggeringly ill-informed about real events and similarly that Glenys Kinnock, an elected representative, could only contribute fatuous, homespun truisms or over-reactive emoting. This, compared to the incisive and insightful comments of Ian Hislop - a mere satirist. The wit and sincerity of his words shone out amongst the others. Could he be on again please?
Tonight's panellists were ill-informed compared with the audience. The N.I. question showed the guests had no understanding of N.I. or the Good Friday Agreement. The young man who had lived in a children's home made sensible points, but he didn't deserve Heseltine's attempt to browbeat him. Maybe the programme should consider giving the questioners more time to respond to the "guests" with being interrupted.
It was most refreshing to hear Roger Scruton using reason as the basis for argument, as opposed to the usual 'sentiment without foundation' type of argument expressed
by many politicians today. Incidentally, I personally believe Heidegger to be the better philosopher!
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