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

March 9, Nottingham

The panel this week included:

  • Michael Meacher MP, Environment Minister
  • John Redwood MP, Conservative
  • Alan Beith MP, Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats
  • Miranda Sawyer, author and journalist
  • Dawn Airey, Director of Programmes, Channel 5

The topics discussed were:

Imprisoning beggars?

Audience Question: Does the panel agree that the threat of imprisonment issued to Romanian refugee women with babies in London entirely disproportionate to the offence committed?

John Redwood: The government has let us down. What we need is a fair decision at the point of entry for asylum seekers.

Miranda Sawyer: It's ludicrous to put someone in prison simply because they're begging. Each person is an individual, you can't just say "go back where you came from".

Dawn Airey: Is it just Asylum seekers? In London and Oxford there are many kinds of people who are on the street. These are people who need help.

Michael Meacher: Three people in Nottingham station approached me begging within 15 minutes. This is a worrying indictment of our society. It is degrading for the individuals themselves. Aggressive begging is unacceptable. I did not give them any money and it's not right that they should be given any. They need jobs.

Alan Beith: Jack Straw was going to get rid of squeegee merchants. Prison doesn't work. It costs the taxpayer a lot of money. The government's tendency to label all asylum seekers as bogus is extremely unfair.

You said:

"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"
- Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".
How reassuring to see that Dickens is not yet out of date...
M. Little, Ottawa, Canada

It is always interesting to watch the newspapers and the comments linked with refugees from Eastern Europe. They talk about "Romanian refugee women", not mentioning that in fact, 99% of them are gypsies. I know (and correct me if I am wrong) that the one of the few categories of people from Eastern Europe who do qualify for political asylum in UK, are gypsies. If the Romanian government is tough with begging gypsies, in the west this is treated as "racial harassment". But if the same gypsies come to England, Londoners are in their right to be annoyed with their behaviour and to want to send them to prison. The truth is out there?
I. Vais, London

It's easy for people to not see the problem unless they are in London. If they walk as I do the 10mins to work from Waterloo, past 5 lots of "spare some change" and two "big issues" then run the gauntlet at lunch time on the South Bank of 5 or 6 women with babies begging it just gets a bit too much... This is not Albania or Romania, this is London, so get them off the streets. Maybe a good job for the new Mayor of London, in what they claim is this "great city"...
John, London

Putting people in prison for other than serious and real crimes is a sad statement of our times.
John Bisaha, Lambertville, NJ, USA

Refugee beggars should not be put in prison. That way the taxpayer is paying even more for their upkeep. If they want to stay here they must be prepared to earn a living so they should be given work - picking up litter or cleaning graffiti perhaps. if they are still caught begging we should just throw them out of the country.
Neil Johnson

Regarding the issue of refugee women begging with children. I live in an area where a lot of these women beg. What worries me is that they seem to be 'run' by often well dressed men with mobile phones and the children seem always to be quiet and asleep. As a mother of three and a grandmother of four, I find this very strange. Could these children be drugged? I do wonder if there is there is a child protection issue here, and wouldn't be at all surprised if these presumably uneducated women are also being exploited and abused.
Harriet Jodelka, Brixton, London

When I was a child thirty years ago there was a welfare state and no beggars in Britain. Why not pay more dole to keep people from desperation and crime. Nobody chooses begging as a profession.
Oakie, Galloway, Scotland

Is Michael Meacher naive? His claim that begging is a recent phenomenon (i.e. 10-20 years) is grossly off the mark. 'Begging' has been a permanent feature of British society since at least the Victorian era.
Paul Maginn, London

I think beggars should be imprisoned, as they beg openly in streets, thus encouraging others to do so. They are persistent and nag the public. It is time that the British government realised this and sort it out, at least by cutting the number of refugees down.
Ismail Mulla, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire

These refugees are economic migrants. Why not jail them? We jail housewives for not having a TV licence.
T. Mcelwee, Jarrow

If we did imprison beggars it would:
1) Cost the tax payer an awful lot of money.
2) Give them a warm dry place to stay - with no worry about where there next meal will come from.
Therefore I'm convinced it won't actually happen.
B Dexter, London

As someone who has worked at the Port of Dover and witnessed the influx of illegal immigrants I sincerely hope that someone with more knowledge of the situation is in charge of sorting out the ever-growing problem. The French authorities provide facilities for potential asylum seekers and support them, or at the least fail to discourage them, in their efforts to travel to the UK as stowaways on lorries unbeknown to totally innocent drivers who face large fines and confiscation of their vehicles.
Jennifer Parsons, Dover

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Soft porn on Channel 5

Audience Question: As a Christian I disapprove of televised soft pornography. Why do Channel 5 broadcast this kind of rubbish? They seem to have no morals.

Michael Meacher: I'm aware there are a number of racy movies. I don't think it should be banned. It is important that people have freedom of choice. But you do have to have consensual standards and some limits.

Dawn Airey: Channel 5 transmits precisely no pornography. If we did I would be in jail now. We do transmit a very small number of adult programming. Unlike other channels we don't pretend it is anything other than what it is. We don't wrap it up and pretend it is art. It is very clearly labelled. It represents less than 2% of our output. It suits other broadcaster to label us in that way.

Alan Beith: The aggressiveness of your defence suggests that all is not well. Channel 5 is sailing very close to the wind.

Miranda Sawyer: This is part of a general loosening of values. There are magazines such as FHM and Loaded that have made it seem more acceptable to have a scantily-clad lady on the coffee table. Morals are a sliding scale and the public's values are changing.

John Redwood: We need a balance and a law to stop the worst kind of stuff. We can't make a decision entirely on own because it can be beamed in by satellite or come in through the internet.

You said:

The evangelist/petrol pump attendant didn't call the shows 'rubbish', he called them 'crap' - an expletive for which he would doubtless be vilified by some of his God-fearing chums. Does he not realise that the repressive censorship of the swivel-eyed religious right harms everyone, including fellow Christians? Sometimes I get offended by the smugness of 'religious' broadcasting (eg R4's Thought For The Day) but I would never dream of asking for it to be banned.
Tim, London

Soft porn should be banned. If people want to watch porn they can hire videos from the video shop. It should not be in everyone else's face when you turn the TV over by accident.
Claire, Basildon, Essex

Interesting that all through the question of adult material on channel 5, what was broadcasting at that same time on channel 5? Answer... Sex & Shopping! nice one!
Adam, London

If you allow your children to watch programmes that aren't suitable for them on TV then it's your fault, not the TV producers'.
Stephen, Ashington

Isn't the amount of gratuitous violence more problematic than seeing what adults do naturally? Why are there so many complaints about seeing nudity and sexual situations when there are fewer complaints about seeing limbs severed, organs being spilled out of bodies and similar gratuitously gory incidents?
Scott Weir, Glasgow

We turned over to channel 5 whilst the lady was speaking. It was disgusting, it was porn.
Name withheld

In my area channel 5 is totally unobtainable and many of my neighbours seem to have the same problem. When are channel 5 going to rectify this situation and allow the whole population see the racy programmes supposed to be on offer?
Mr C Dunn, Falmouth

Channel 5's religious programming, especially for children on Sunday mornings, is excellent - the best currently around.
B Dexter, London

The so-called Christian evangelist thinks that the answer to the problem of 10-year old children watching TV at 11.00pm is to make all TV suitable for children. It would be better if he spent his time knocking on doors persuading parents to put their children to bed. Late night TV is for adults, and the majority of responsible adults have a right to enjoy it, evangelists notwithstanding!
Roy Stewart, Caterham

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Black economy vs regular economy

Audience Question: Does the panel think that a black economy is better than no economy at all?>

Miranda Sawyer: I must confess, although I hope I don't get prosecuted for it, in my early days as a journalist I couldn't survive on the money I earned so I signed on at the same time. Once I got enough money to survive I signed off. I pay my taxes now.

Alan Beith: That's not a choice. We have to have a genuine economy otherwise we don't have money for hospitals, schools. A black economy takes money away from that. I've been in parliament 25 years and every chancellor has said he is going to get rid of the black economy. You have to take some tough measures. Getting people from the black economy into work is important.

John Redwood: The answer is to have a regular economy taxed sufficient lightly so that everyone is in it. This government has gone out of its way to creating a whopping black economy. We're just seeing many people in IT go abroad because the Inland Revenue has decided to change the way they are taxed.

Michael Meacher: There are 27m people in work today in Britain. The highest number ever. We need to give people incentives to get back into work. It offends people when they find there are some who are signing on and working.

Dawn Airey: Whether taxes were half of what they are currently are there would still be a black economy. How many people can say they haven't paid someone in cash to save a bit of money.

You said:

The government is spinning its supposed support of e-commerce and small business, whilst causing many to go out of business through the new IR35 legislation. Surely it is controversial enough to warrant a question on "Question time"
Leigh Smith, Blackburn, Lancashire

I thought John Redwood was magnificent when discussing the way New Labour is destroying business through regulation and stealth taxes. I am an independent Computer Consultant who's business is at risk due to the Government's IR35 proposals. Rather than stay in the UK and be put out of business, I am taking my IT skills to the US in May. Stealth taxes always come home to roost - look at the way Tesco workers are being asked to increase their pension contributions because of Brown's early grab for pension fund dividend income.
Richard Marriott, Redditch

Instead of forever targeting poorer people in society who can barely get through the day and who can't afford to work, because they live in the most tax-crazed country on earth, why don't politicians stop their own kind, instead of decrying the person who. They avoid paying taxes, with back handers, and the likes of GNER who bank their profits made from running an overcharged pathetic rail service, in a Bermuda bank account. Some Mother of Democracy we have.
Mr Brian Foster, Darlington

I was angered by Mr Meacher's dismissal of Mr Redwood's comments on to how the government is hounding IT workers out of Britain by the introduction of the IR35 legislation. I work in the IT sector and many IT personnel are, in fact, leaving the UK to work elsewhere in Europe to avoid the penalties imposed by the new legislation.
Miss Candy Williams, Port Talbot

'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.' At least let's sort out the problem properly, and not mess about with just blaming the poor. There are plenty of ways for people to avoid paying tax. Just see the Sunday Times supplements on salting away your money in tax-free investments.
Miss Kate Hillier, Colchester, Essex

I am a disabled mature student. After becoming disabled I could no longer do my job so I went to college to re-train. I am now in the second year of a history degree and hope to go on to do a PGCE. Why two strikes and you're out. Why not one? If a person is convicted of fraud they will be punished and may even go to prison. Is it not fraud to sign on and work? I have to cope on my student loan, cannot sign on in the summer and because I am disabled find it difficult to find work.
Dan Neale, Canterbury

When businessmen use their wealth to avoid tax etc. This is frowned upon but nothing is done. When the poorest in our society actually get out and earn a bit of money to keep body & soul together - these people face the full force of the law. Talk about a divided society.
B Dexter, London

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Ken Labour leading Old Labour

Audience Question: Now that Old Labour in the shape of Ken Livingstone has reared its head over the parapet can we expect the rest of the beast to follow?

Dawn Airey: I think not. Ken didn't take this decision lightly. Good luck to Ken for sticking up for his values.

John Redwood: Old Labour, New Labour they're all the same to me. They're Labour and they're making a mess of the country I love. The New Labour people have adopted a lot of the agenda of the extreme Labour in the 70s.

Michael Meacher: I don't think so. People have loyalty to the party, whatever their private feelings. There are probably quite a number who agree with him. It's extremely important that we all stick together. It's water under the bridge. I think Frank Dobson is a very good candidate.

John Redwood (to Michael Meacher):Who would you advise Labour party voters to give their second vote?

Michael Meacher: Who I vote for is nothing to do with you. I think we should work with him if he is the elected mayor. We need to try to have a positive campaign. We can't have him back in the party. The rules are very clear.

Alan Beith: When Ken was people called him the revolutionary thrown out. This is a huge reaction to Tony Blair's attempt to dictate to the elect who should be mayor. He hasn't got the message that people are going to make their own decisions.

Miranda Sawyer: It's really obvious that Labour have made a mistake. They had the most popular candidate in their party.

You said:

If John Redwood had proffered his candidacy for the mayor of London, would his party have disowned him in the brutal way Ken Livingstone experienced?
Paddy Murray, Nottingham

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Go forth and multiply!

Audience Question: What does the panel think of the Bishop of Rochester's criticism of couples who chose not to have children, labelling them as selfish and not fulfilling their basic duty?

Dawn Airey: I think he comes from medieval times. He's totally out of touch and for a Bishop his views are insulting

Alan Beith: I think he's just plain wrong. There are very few people in this position because most couples want to have children, some are unable to do so.

Michael Meacher: Marriage is not just a production machine for child. It is a loving relationship between two people. In a world where the population is doubling every 30 years the problem is controlling a runaway population.

Miranda Sawyer: It's not any of his business.

John Redwood: It's up to individual couples to make up their minds. The religious point is a real one, marriage services do say that the creation of children is one of the prime purposes of life.

You said:

Women are not just on this earth to produce children, which is what is implied here. It's an individual choice and is nothing to do with anyone outside of the relationship. It is also insulting to couples who can't have children. And what about couple (like myself) who are having children but do not wish to get married? Does that make us sinner or something as well? The church should butt out of people's lives once and for all. Look at all the damage it has caused in the past.
Laura Berrill, London

I think John Redwood was right with his comments about the Bishop of Rochester. Anyone who got married in church signed up to a commitment that a part of marriage was having children. The bishop is doing what more churchmen should do and actually preaching the true message of Christianity and not some politically correct watered down version designed to please a secular society. Also, the continuation of the human race is a matter for public debate.
Alex Hellier, Cardiff

I fully support the Bishop of Rochester's statement on the necessity of marriage leading to the birth of children. The panel's views reflected the obsessive individualism and selfishness of our present age. Who will be there to support and nurture our increasingly ageing population? Other peoples' children?
Kantid Asmari, Manchester

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Boring presidential candidates?

Audience Question: In a country as huge as America why do the panel think that they can only find two such lacklustre and uncharismatic candidates as Bush and Gore?

Alan Beith: They can only find two people with enough money to fight the ludicrously expensive campaigns.

John Redwood: You're being a bit unfair on the two candidates but if you have big money politics then mavericks get squeezed. I would probably vote for Bush.

Dawn Airey: I don't necessarily think they are lacklustre. Who knows, one of them might have turned out like Bill Clinton.

Michael Meacher: If you have the kind of political parties in this country in which there is more accountability and there's a system of choice which is not based on money then you get more electable persons.

Miranda Sawyer: Those candidates didn't seem to have any personality so you couldn't call it personality politics. They were the favoured candidates of their parties and the parties won right the way through.

You said:

Two-party dictatorship reigns supreme in the UK and the USA while true democracy remains a mythical ideal. To John Redwood I would like to say that I have been living here for nearly 20 years precisely because the Conservative Party has been utterly ruining the country. I also love the UK. The jury is still out on New Labour - but the prognosis does NOT look good to date.
Peter Tooth, Lincoln, NE, USA

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General comments on the programme

Recent studies by the OECD and by the Consumers Association have highlighted significant degrees of poverty in the UK. They show that as many as 1.5 million people were forced to "self-disconnect" their energy supplies, because they could not afford to feed the prepayment meter last year and up to 1 in 4 homes in some hard hit areas lack even a phone. How can everyone in the UK be provided internet access in the next 5 years without steps first been taken to eradicate the desperate poverty found in many communities throughout the country?
Martin Harrison, Glasgow

Mr Blair: How many Big Ben chimes in an Iraqi child's life?
Name withheld

I have been running a public internet centre in the small town of Crieff in Scotland for three years. I have seen how a couple of pounds worth of internet access can empower the poor and the old both to have a voice and also to have access to goods, information and services that they could only have dreamed about five years ago. The biggest problem is the privatised BT. Their rates even for local access are a national scandal and in rural areas they have a virtual monopoly. We need open access to the BT local loops now, not in 2001. Make the net free and keep it free.
Alasdair Cameron, Crieff, Scotland

Why should working people have to pay for their internet access as well as that of non-working people through their taxes? I work but cannot afford web access at home, isn't there a danger that the information poor will simply be another section of society paying taxes to fund other people's web access?
Matthew Knowles, London

It's not the charges of the ISP's that are crippling us. It's BT, robbing us blind. As far as I know American telecom companies make profits - but they don't charge for local calls. Why should BT?
Andrew Fortune, Swadlincote

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