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 16, Truro

This week's panel included:

  • Nick Brown MP, agriculture minister
  • Theresa May MP, shadow education and employment secretary
  • Matthew Taylor MP, Liberal Democrat economy spokesman
  • Jo Brand, comedienne
  • Peter Hitchens, Daily Express columnist

The topics discussed were:

A future for Rover?

Audience Question: Do the panel feel the government have failed in their task of securing the future of Rover workers?

Peter Hitchens: This is not really in our control any more - ever since the car industry was reduced to ruins by insane trade union militancy and mostly sold into foreign ownership. The European Commission got in the way of badly needed aid when it might have made the difference.

Nick Brown: The EU and the government's aid package are a red herring in all of this. My thoughts are with the workers at Longbridge and their families. Ultimately it is under the control of companies in the marketplace. Our priority is to safeguard jobs.

Theresa May: Hopes had been raised when Steve Byers told us he'd brokered this deal. The government should have taken more care to ensure that it was going to survive. In 1994 when BMW bought Rover they said Britain was one of the best countries to come to because of the economy. But with the current government's stealth taxes businesses find it increasingly hard to operate competitively.

Matthew Taylor: In the last year we lost some 120,000 jobs, mainly in manufacturing. We're losing jobs in farming as well, mainly as a result of the high exchange rate. This is the missing issue in government - the thing they won't talk about. Being in the Euro, or making it clear we are going to join, would help.

Jo Brand: The bottom line is that these people are controlled by the whims of the capitalist economy. Alchemy's prime motive is profit. They're going to dump it just like it's been dumped already.

You said:

The asset stripping of Rover is a combination of failures on many sides. BMW clearly have taken the profitable parts and sold them at a profit. The not so profitable part has been tossed away for someone to try and sort out. BMW have failed to deliver their promises, and we must support our working colleagues in Longbridge and boycott BMW.
Richard Pickett, Worthing

Every day we see companies closing or making redundancies because of the strength of sterling and therefore unable compete against European companies. British manufacturing is slowly choking to death. The economy is booming though! Try selling that one in Belfast, the Midlands and the Scottish Borders.
P Dawson, Cumbria

I have been working at Rover Swindon for 21 years. We on the R75 project feel very cheated by BMW. We are fed up with the media forgetting that 2500 people here are going to lose their jobs as well. I also wish to make the fact known that BMW have lied to the workforce all the way. They asked us to work very anti-social shift patterns for less money/longer hours as a rescue package for Swindon. We all did this to find the end result is job losses here as well.
Andy Avenell, Swindon

All car manufacturers in the UK are suffering from low sales, not just Rover. The government has developed a service-based economy that cannot sustain manufacturing production. Unless action is taken now then all aspects of manufacturing will slowly die in the UK, and we will become a totally servile nation!
Donald Mc Dougall, Swindon

The exchange rates are not to blame for the current situation. A recent study on Top Gear showed that you can buy a Rover 25 in the Netherlands for more than 2000 less than here.
John Sutton

Why don't the panel stop trying to be so politically correct and simply admit profit is the sole business motive. In this context people are merely dispensable statistics. Market forces determine where and how labour is employed. If one's industry is dying, maybe it's time to re-train.
E Emmanuel, Bristol

With the concern over government stealth tax, how about some stealth tax relief? Perhaps reduce or abolish company car tax for future Rover purchases. This may renew some loyalty in British products and be directly effective instead of the open chequebook of aid supplied to the group in past decades.
Andrew Stockmarr, London

Why did the BBC's Top Gear give Rover's new car such bad reviews when so many jobs depend on the brand?
Joe Parsons, Camelford

I have watched the Rover story for some months now carefully. It seems to me that BMW have systematically devalued the brand. Ask yourself - when you last saw an advert for Rover cars?
Barbara Newman, Walsall

Like everyone I have sympathy with Rover employees, but Rover is a business not a charity. We cannot accept the rewards of working for private industry without accepting the risks it carries. If Rover had been turned around under BMW we would have said it was a testament to the skill of the British workforce. It hasn't worked out, and it is not fair to blame BMW. At the end of the day the bottom line counts.
James Harvey, Broadstairs

Surely, it's no surprise that when the Tories gave away Rover to the Germans they were looking to make a fast buck?
Graeme Bell, Aberdeen

Why is it that a country as advanced as England with our government cannot run a car manufacturer such as Rover just as well as a private company can. Surely with the correct management it must be a success? If the government do not have the ability then they should not be in power.
Shaun Blythe, Aylesbury

Why was the Government in the dark over the Rover sell off?
Mark Mathews, Cardiff

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Farming in crisis

Audience Question: With the price of milk less than bottled water, and farm incomes at an all-time low, isn't it time for more robust government intervention to save the industry from collapse?

Theresa May: The government don't really understand the depth of crisis that farming has gone into. We want to ensure we have high animal welfare standards and we don't want to import meat produced at lower standards. Farmers have been diversifying for years.

Matthew Taylor: Two things could be done immediately. Reform an agriculture system where almost all the support goes to a handful of giant agribusinesses. Who's responsible for the low prices paid? Supermarkets, retailers and processors make huge profits, with no money getting back to producers. Breaking up the Milk Marketing Board didn't help.

Peter Hitchens: We don't run this country any more, it's run from Brussels, particularly the farming side of it. Poor Nick Brown says he's an agriculture minister, actually he's a pro-consul for the EU. The message he has to convey is "there's nothing we can do".

Nick Brown: If you want to back British farmers you can. We all have the power to buy British. We are price competitive. I have issued new guidance on labelling to trading standards officers. The problem of dairy farming is in the supply chain not with the producers.

Jo Brand: Farming is a unique case because they are all over the country. If farming goes the whole country suffers.

You said:

Has Nick Brown lost his milk bottle? There is a fundamental rule in economics. When times 'is hard, producers get out, supply shrinks and the price goes back up. This can't happen with milk because there's a fixed tradeable quota. All farms produce milk to quota. Dairy farmers are zealously over-regulated and are brutally squeezed by a cartel of supermarkets and milk processors. There is a minimum wage, lets have a temporary minimum price. UK dairy farms are the largest, most efficient and welfare-friendly in Europe.
Stephen Brooks, Falmouth

We hear about the farmers all the time yet we do not hear anything about the farm workers or the subsidiary industries also going to the wall. Farm workers who work long and unsociable hours have been compromised as farmers are being squeezed. Less hours, less pay, no wage increases or more hours and no pay. The last indignity is to be made redundant. The number of farm workers walking away from farming in our area is rising fast. These skilled people cannot be replaced just like that.
Shelley Brown, Nantwich

Doesn't the Government care more about pleasing it's trading partners in the EEC than helping British farmers to trade effectively and with profit?
Ms Harvey, Oxford

In reference to the idea of lowering the prices in supermarkets, who exactly is going to tell Lord Sainsbury to reduce his own stores' prices? I feel that such a conflict of interest (even though it is declared) is absolutely ridiculous in an "unbiased" parliament.
Paul Glenn

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Teaching 'stable relationships'

Audience Question: If children are going to be taught about marriage and stable relationships how should teachers ensure that children of other relationships are not excluded?

Jo Brand: It's going to be incredibly difficult if the definition is quite narrow given the range of relationships. It's some kind of deal they've done with the bishops. I am married and I'd recommend it very highly. Children should be taught about all sorts of relationships. That doesn't mean you're promoting them, you're educating them.

Peter Hitchens: Children in non-married relationships are already excluded. Every social scientist thinks children need marriage for full development. Schools should have no real role in this. A school system that can take children in and turn them out without being able to read and write is an international disgrace. Almost all sex education is immoral propaganda.

Theresa May: The guidance has been produced in discussion with certain bishops. The government isn't saying to schools "you will do this". They are only offering guidance. They are not sufficient to replace Section 28, and polls show most parents want it to stay.

Nick Brown: Section 28 has never been invoked. It only had the effect of intimidating the teaching profession. We should leave this to school governing bodies and the professionalism of teachers.

Matthew Taylor: You can't teach someone to be gay, it's an absolute nonsense. If you don't want to, you're not going to do it. The same goes for marriage. You need to be told about loving relationships. Section 28 has prevented teachers from dealing with bullying.

You said:

I have always been gay, and yet, I had to suffer a confusing and damaging sexual education. This included a sex education at school in which homosexuality was never mentioned, let alone discussed in a rational way. No one ever thought to protect me from preying heterosexuals as a teenager - who made my life uncomfortable. Heterosexuality is promoted in schools through English literature texts, etc, Surely we need to readdress this terrible ignorance about homosexuality. You really can't catch it - and nor can you make a gay person straight - this is the ignorant fear stopping rational and humanitarian debate. Isn't it time to ask homosexuals for a change what they think about homosexuality?
Anna Wood, Leuven, Belgium

The difference between marriage and other stable relationships was described succinctly in a sermon last Sunday when our Minister stated that 'marriage is a covenant and not a contract'. It seems that this important distinction is not well appreciated in our society, and I fully support the promotion of marriage in schools, with reference to this distinction.
Naomi Emmerson, Reading

I would like to ask Peter Hitchens and all who think as he does what he has to offer homosexual children. A life of celibacy and loneliness? I have been in a long-term homosexual relationship for the last 24 years and it is just as valid and strong as any heterosexual one.
Paul Ross, Redcar

I found Mr Hitchens' comments on non-marital relationships extremely outmoded. As a child of a single parent, I have never felt "excluded" or different. It is prejudice such as his that creates such exclusion.
Judi Wilton, London

I just have the impression Britain is so much behind as far as gay equality is concerned! I am Belgian but have been the UK correspondent for Belgian National Radio and have lived in Britain for years. I now see how 'naively' Britain seems to approach homosexuality. Homosexuality, whether it's lesbian, gay or bisexual, is NOT something you're taught to be. You don't become gay, you ARE gay! Why do gay people always have to suffer heterosexual PROMOTION, constantly projected onto them in society? If only British people were able to understand other languages, they would realise how the rest of Europe has a higher standard of living and better human rights. In Belgium, for instance, gay people can have a 'co-habitation' contract that allows them some of the same rights as heterosexual people. Very probably gay people will soon be able to marry. Considering the Daily Express columnist's view that only marriage is the acceptable model for children this is just as well then!
Griet Vos, Leuven, Belgium

"Our job is not to censure but to understand!" M. Attwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Surely by asking teachers to 'preach' these ideals Blair and Blunkett are taking away free thought? It is indeed none of the teachers' business. Surely they have enough to do at the moment!
D. Barnard

Imagine your 4-year-old child sees two men or women kissing. He/she asks what they are doing and why are they doing it? What would you answer?
James Harvey, Broadstairs, Kent

Peter Hitchens is quite right in saying that the Government is anti-marriage. This is demonstrated by the fact that so many members of the Cabinet are self-confessed homosexuals. What is needed in schools is the promotion of marriage and family life and its importance in a Christian country. This would help deal with many of the problems from which the country is suffering, such as teenage pregnancies, and an increasing divorce rate.
Brendan Knight, Leeds

I have children and my oldest is 7 and knows the difference between strait and gay people. Sex education should come from the parents and be backed up by the schools.
Dustin Burton

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The morality of taxes

Audience Question: Does the panel agree with William Hague that higher taxation leads to more dependency and a less elevated human condition or is this just another way of saying "there is no such thing as society"?

Jo Brand: Do I agree with William Hague? He's talking a load of absolute bolognaise. It's outrageous to say that lower taxes are morally right. Taxes aren't just there to make everyone's lives really bad. There are there for public services and for helping people who are really struggling.

Theresa May: People should have the greatest amount of their income to themselves. The government has admitted that the tax burden is rising. The government taxes more and delivers less. Under this government the cost of Whitehall has gone up by a 1bn.

Matthew Taylor: The Conservative Party's learnt its lesson from the 1997 election. They fought on cutting taxes on the grounds that people are so selfish that they're going to vote for it, and they lost. Now they're trying to persuade you that it's the moral thing to do, and they're going to fight on the same platform next time. But its just not going to wash. We need to put tax cuts aside and make the investment.

Peter Hitchens: The government is bad at almost everything it does. We've been turned into serfs by high taxation. There's nothing good about paying tax. You just hand money over to people who don't know how to spend it.

Nick Brown: The tax burden did rise and is falling. We had to get rid of the Tory deficit that we had inherited. If you want public services then you have to pay for it.

You said:

Is the time right now for a zoned bank interest rate allied to the postcode of the applicant? Is it fair that I have to pay the same interest rates on a bank loan on the Isle of Skye as someone living in Kingston-upon-Thames? I have none or little of the business infrastructure facilities that they have to hand.
John Mackay, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Given the lack of funds available for many of the government plans isn't it about that they introduced a higher rate of tax for the super rich i.e. 50%.
Graham Flowerdew, UK/USA

The "IR35" stealth tax being introduced in April will result in a 52% marginal rate of tax for employees of small Information Technology businesses. The Government can't expect to keep the UK at the forefront of the e-commerce revolution, when their unfair "IR35" stealth tax is going to force 50,000 small Information Technology businesses to close, and will result in the migration of many skilled IT staff to other countries?
Martin Audley, Abingdon, Oxfordshire

I can understand where Hague is coming from. Would Rowntree have come forward had the state been doing more? But institutions such as the National Lottery blur lines and are more likey to reduce charitable donations.
Will Rees, Basingstoke

Peter Hitchens is living in Cloud Cookoo Land if he thinks that the US tax regime is much better than the UK. When he retires, he obviously won't need state schools, healthcare (hospitals, dentists, opticians etc), pensions, winter fuel allowance and all the other tax-funded services that the rest of us and our families rely upon. I'm glad someone pointed out that the 'wonderful' private US health service costs several times more than ours yet doesn't cover even the basics unless you're loaded. Shame on him. The Express has just lost another reader.
William Westbury, Halesowen

Will Mr. Blair be remembered as 'Blair the butcher of IT' in years to come due to his tax vendetta against the IT industry (IR35)?
Tom Francis, Watford

Politicians of all parties pretend that they can offer better NHS, education, defence and justice without putting up taxes. Either they have never studied economics or they are deceiving us as well as themselves. The NHS is in crisis. We cannot administer the law. We cannot deploy the forces to meet our own defence, let alone foreign adventures. Who is kidding whom?
Derek H Broome, UK

I can't believe that we need corporation tax, high capital gains tax, 17.5% VAT and a 40% high rate income tax just to manage this country. Millions of pounds are being wasted unnecessarily. Government must become more efficient and managed more as a business.
Joseph Hart, Sydney, Australia

The time has come for greater transparency in the UK tax system. Currently it is almost impossible for the normal person in the street to calculate his or her individual tax burden. This is due to the plethora of indirect taxes in place, i.e. fuel tax, vehicle licence duty, etc. Is there not a case to scrap all these and replace them with one simple tax, based on income.
Phil Knight, Inverbervie, Scotland, UK

In a Mr Hague and Bush Jr dream-world, there would be no taxes. Taxes they say prevent us from sorting ourselves AND helping others. It may be because such silly ideas did not work in the past that taxes and social security were introduced!
Pascal Jacquemain, London

Downing Street has finally admitted that this Labour government has raised the overall tax burden. So can we expect to hear this announced four or five times, like other announcements?
Name withheld

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Would you trust a bearded man?

Audience Question: Should we regard all men with beards as untrustworthy?

Jo Brand: Women with beards are fairly untrustworthy.

Peter Hitchens: Having had three beards myself I'm in abeyance. I think men with beards are very trustworthy.

Nick Brown: I've never had a beard or a moustache.

Theresa May: I've never had a bearded boyfriend. From my point of view probably uncomfortable.

Matthew Taylor: Since Frank isn't allowed to say what he thinks anyway, I think it's a very unfair criticism.

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General comments on the programme:

I was looking forward to some real debate about issues that effect Cornwall like Objective One matched funding, and taxation of 2nd homes. Who cares about the "beardedness" of the London Mayor?
Dr Jonathan Evans, Liverpool (ex Bodmin)

Why did your programme bother to come to Truro? There are many problems specific to Cornwall - but your program, like the UK Government, clearly refuses to recognise our distinct identity, and presumably doesn't think the rest of the UK will be interested. If you can't take us seriously, please stay in middle England, where you obviously belong.
Richard Ford, Truro

I liked the bit in the show where Theresa May propositioned George Best - whose surprise appearance in the audience demonstrated that our taxes seem to be helping the NHS to work miraculously well.
Damien Stone, Wimborne

Having just watched the broadcast this evening, I am again disappointed that we have to tolerate the inane and less than funny quips from one of the guests. This week Jo Brand. Surely, this is not the time or place for this type of entertainer? This is designed to be a serious debating forum.
Phil Grover, High Wycombe

In view of the large amount of tax relief that BAe and Lord Young were allowed under Thatcher, they should pay back those millions to the chancellor, or use their profits to finance the wing for the new generation Airbus.
Robin Simmonds, Portsmouth

Why is it that people like Jo Brand understand more about life (the way things really are), than any representative of any political party on the show tonight?

Why is the panel for Truro so unrepresentative of the distinct identity of Cornwall? Only one MP is from Cornwall and even the non-party panellists do not live or work in Cornwall. In Wales, Scotland or Ireland the BBC would make an effort to reflect the ethnic balance of those countries, why do they discriminate against the Cornish?
Dr Loveday Jenkin, Exeter, UK

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