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 23, Maidstone

This week's panel included:

  • Margaret Jay, leader of the House of Lords
  • Tom Strathclyde, Conservative leader, House of Lords
  • Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman
  • Brian Sewell, Evening Standard columnist
  • Fabiola Arredondo, managing director, Yahoo! Europe

The following topics were discussed:

Locking up asylum seekers

Audience Question: Should all those entering Britain claiming asylum be made to stay in secure accommodation while their case is assessed?

Margaret Jay: The problem is that we don't know - of those coming across the ports - who is a genuine refugee and who isn't. One of the problems in the past is that some people have just disappeared. The government is opening a big reception centre in Cambridgeshire and it will be able to speed up the processing time to seven days.

Brian Sewell: It's not a bad idea if you've got room for 100,000 people. The politicians, and particularly Barbara Roche and Anne Widdecombe seem to be vying for the title of vilest women in England. The economic migrants are here because they have nothing. The Romany people have no roots. We should not be so uncharitable. When they are begging because they're desperate we should be thankful they aren't stealing.

Tom Strathclyde: This is a classic example of all mouth and no delivery. The Labour party opposed all our proposals when they were in opposition. They have made Britain a soft touch. We want no amnesties for people who are currently here.

Simon Hughes: In Southwark there is almost no trouble from the refugees. The rumours are hugely exaggerated. I dug out the Daily Telegraph from 1938. It said: "The way German Jews are pouring into this country is becoming an outrage." The percentage of refugees per resident Briton is higher in most other European countries. You can't get 100,00 people in secure accommodation. It's only an issue because we have a backlog.

Fabiola Arredondo: The issue has been allowed to become very emotional and that's the responsibility of the government. They should spend more money and process the applications faster. It's ironic given that the UK is one of the greatest exporters of people around the world. It's no surprise people beg given that they have 36 to survive on per week.

You said:

As a generalisation, refugees are highly motivated to succeed in this country. Many are already very well educated and are intent on making a contribution to society. I know this because I teach them. The government's attitude to refugees and asylum seekers is, at best, equivocal. Do they always have to wait for the right-wing press to set the tone on social issues and then follow? Isn't tolerance a Labour heartland issue as much as the NHS and education?
Jane Peckham, London

How dare they make us feel guilty for expressing our dismay about all the people piling into our country.
Jean Hodgetts, Leek, Staffs

It is clear that Alf Garnett is not dead. Is it not about time that we started thinking a bit bigger. We are all inhabitants of the world, not just this country.
Donald Booth, Glasgow

You are entitled to your comments, but if you have not been to Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo, Romania, Chechnya, wherever; then you don't know what you are talking about. I have, for extended periods of time, worked in these places. Britain is doing a lot for refugees, but in many ways we can and should do more to stop the tide. Many are not refugees by any stretch of the imagination. They are using the system.
Colin Mackay, Glasgow

If asylum seekers are genuine why is it they do not stop off in Spain / Greece / Italy / Germany / France through which they have to travel to reach us? All of these are EU members and if the asylum seekers were genuine they surely would stop at the first civilised country.
Eric Lacey, Wedmore Somerset

The discussion about refugees was challenged by some, though they didn't say what it was - Racism. I think the question allowed originally on this gave the green light to these disgusting views and believe you should pay more attention to the potential of a question. The Nazis have already targeted Dover and Kent for their activities. Jack Straw and the Tories led by the arch bigot, Anne Widdecombe, are whipping up a racist backlash over the desperate plight of refugees. They are backed by the most deliberate lies of The Mail and The Sun. It is time the facts were debated.
June Threadgould, Manchester

A couple of weeks ago my family received a termination of contract from our landlord. We have been in this property for a little over three years and this came as quite a blow. Preceding the notice by one day, we were told that he was going to get Kosovar refugees in to the property in order to raise twice the rent. How we feel cannot be expressed here.
Scott Clarke, Northants

I'm glad I don't live in Maidstone. Some of the racist and ill-informed comments from a few in the audience were disgraceful.
Don McDonald, Newcastle upon Tyne

Asylum seekers are welcomed while illegal immigrants are expelled. Unfortunately the former must be treated as illegal immigrants until we can establish otherwise. It does not follow the innocent until proven guilty rule and we must detain these people until their case is proven.
Thomas Burt, Stenhousemuir

Fabiola Arredondo, Simon Hughes, and Brian Sewell's intelligent comments were a breath of fresh air and sanity. The British media has recently encouraged an extremely intolerant climate of little Englander xenophobia. Our Home Secretary, who ought to know better, is shamelessly pandering to this. I was starting to look around for a more tolerant country to move to - perhaps it won't prove necessary after all.
David Knopfler

It is not racist to say that this country should be stronger when it comes to turning away refugees. My government should look after the people of this country first. Isn't that why we pay taxes?
Andrew Ellwood, Preston

I watched Question Time tonight and was frightened. I see that fascism is alive and well in the UK.
Dr Andrew Curphey, Manchester

As a Chinese person I don't believe there are many genuine Chinese refugees here at all. China's political climate has changed drastically since 1980 and if it's not for economic reasons no-one would ever leave China. Many so-called Chinese refugees here are simply abusing the weak asylum system here in England.
Michael Lau, Sunderland

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Lords out to grass?

Audience Question: Does the panel feel that it's time remaining unelected members of bodies such as the House of Lords be put out to grass?

Tom Strathclyde: The second chamber as it is is undemocratic. It has now become a house of patronage. It's the prime minister who decides not only who goes there but also the balance between the parties. I was keen to have a genuine reform of the Lords. We have to have a worthy successor to a chamber which did an extremely successful job.

Fabiola Arredondo: As a foreigner I've found this issue intriguing. It's sad the government has taken so long. The UK has something quite special with the Lords. In the US elected officials are constantly being compromised by the interests they represent such as corporations.

Brian Sewell: There is no legitimacy in a House of Commons that's not there by proportional representation. My vote is worthless in a constituency which always returns Conservative. A random selection of people in the House of Lords might work.

Simon Hughes: It's clearly nonsense to have one of the two chambers not elected. Over 17 years the House of Lords has done a useful job stopping the legislation being even worse than it is. I hope the government back off the silly idea of 80% nominated and just a few elected members.

Margaret Jay: The situation is that we're in transition. The government is still 50 peers below the Tory figure. Whatever happens in the long run we don't want a situation where one party has a majority over the other.

You said:

Why not turn the House of Commons into the English parliament and change the House of Lords into an elected federal British parliament?
Robert Persad, Barnet

Many of the unelected peers are among the best politicians and debaters in Britain. They scrutinise Bills excellently, without having to worry about elections or gratitude, and therefore allegiance without thought, to those who appointed them.
Jamie Sutherland

Historically the House of Lords was formed from advisors to the monarchy who had shown service to the country. Might not this honourable principal be applied with modern consideration? Invite by random selection a representative to serve for a maximum period of a few years those who have rendered service to this country.
Sean Benbow, London

My solution? Don't elect the upper house but select the members at random from the electoral register, whilst ensuring a mixed representation from the regions and professions: law, medicine, academia, business, the church(es, including other religions). This would provide a house with no predetermined allegiances, but with more worldly experience.
Richard Bullen, Saltburn-by-the-Sea

If Baroness Jay were not the daughter of Jim Callaghan, would she be in the Lords?
Jim Delaney, London

We seems to have replaced one second chamber of parliament that was there by royal patronage originally, with one there by political patronage. But it needs to be elected by a different method than the Commons.
Jonathan Rex, Margate

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No thanks to BMW

Audience Question: As BMW have been subsidising Rover to the tune of about 1/2p in income tax, shouldn't we thank them rather than vilify them?

Brian Sewell: BMW have tried to make Rover work. Now that it doesn't to abuse them is unacceptable. It is in the nature of the motor industry to take over rivals and kill them off.

Fabiola Arredondo: I respect BMW for coming out and saying we made a strategic mistake. Rover has excess capacity across the continent.

Margaret Jay: The motor car industry and many other plants in this country are doing very well. People at Longbridge do feel let down. BMW are going to look at not only the number of jobs lost but also reconstruction and different kinds of jobs for the people at Longbridge.

Simon Hughes: We have to be competitive to survive in a global economy. BMW should have come clean sooner. Unless we get the exchange rate right and the manufacturing trade deficit right British industry will suffer.

Tom Strathclyde: Twelve months ago Stephen Byers said he had a deal. It's as if he never picked up the phone again for a year. He ought to be looking to his job. Last week he blamed BMW and today he went over to negotiate with them.

You said:

It is not British patriotism that would set in motion a Buy British campaign - it is the competitiveness of British goods as compared to foreign goods.
Chang, Leicester

Unlike most other car manufacturers world-wide, Rover still makes a large amount of ancillary components (upholstery, seats, ash trays, dashboards) on site. Companies such as Ford, GMC etc. use outside companies to make such items, so they can control the price. BMW knew this fact when they bought Rover and basically they have done nothing to source cheaper alternatives.
K. Redmond, Birmingham

The Rover workers are not angry because the business is failing but because they have done everything in their power to prevent this situation and have received nothing but lies from BMW. The reason for the poor public perception of Rover is a combination of what appeared to be appalling press management by BMW, and the UK press. I hope the British press and motoring journalists are now happy.
Mike, Solihull

There is a massive outcry over BMW ditching Longbridge across the country. A huge demonstration as been called on Saturday 1st April. Yet you allow a poxy question on whether we should thank BMW. Please!
June Threadgould, Manchester

BMW seems to have a fantastic way of reducing competition in its own sector. It is able to split up a company and remove the parts i.e. Land Rover and Mini, which did not previously challenge its own core markets.
Michael Anderson, Nottingham

I have a new Rover, and all the moaners surely have foreign cars. Enough said.
Moses Serruya, Reading

If the government can suddenly find over 1bn to help Rover workers, why can't it find some money to help the farmers. Or was the money to help Rover already put aside as a subsidy for BMW?
Mr P. Winchcombe, Didcot

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Prime ministerial parental leave

Audience Question: Does the panel feel that Tony Blair should take parental leave?

Fabiola Arredondo: I believe we should have paid paternal leave for a limited period of time because it's a momentous occasion in the lives of new fathers as well as mothers. And we should increase the paid leave for mothers. But Tony Blair, as leader, have taken on a social responsibility so he should not take it.

Margaret Jay: Of course it would be nice to see him following the prime minister of Finland's example and taking paternity leave. It's up to them to make the decision as private citizens. The Whitsun recess for parliamentary leave should cover the date when the baby may be born.

Tom Strathclyde: It should be discussed within their family. If Tony Blair stands down, it's going to be John Prescott who runs the show. Gordon Brown wants them both to leave the scene.

Simon Hughes: It is a family decision. You could run the shop by just popping in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for Prime Minister's Question Time and cabinet meetings.

Brian Sewell: They should get themselves another nanny.

You said:

Tony Blair should not take parental leave. A couple of months after baby Blair is born, the government will begin their 3 month holiday.
Tim Norris, Maidstone

Is Tony taking time off on paternity leave...what's so political about this?
Lorna Scullion, Milton Keynes

I can't believe you let Lord Strathclyde get away with that joke about Gordon Brown conspiring to take over. It is obviously fiction yet a very similar scenario (concerning Mr Portillo) was not mentioned!
Alon Or-bach, London

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Long-awaited NHS cash

Audience Question: For the first time since the Labour party have been in power why have they suddenly put some money into the NHS?

Simon Hughes: They have at last read the writing on the wall. Everyone else has seen the crisis running. The NHS can be saved and the British public desperately want it to be saved.

Tom Strathclyde: The government is run by focus group. The new money is very welcome, but is very late. The question is, it going to go towards patient care?

Brian Sewell: The matter came to the fore because Tony Blair confronted a bunch of NHS people and made a total pratt of himself. We have known about the situation for months but only now is the money produced.

Margaret Jay: Money has got to go in fast and needs to be spent properly. Gordon Brown wanted to make sure the economy was on a sound footing before releasing the money. The NHS has got to change to make improvements in planning. We shall make sure the NHS does have investment and not only survives but prospers.

Fabiola Arredondo: This is a condemnation of the Labour party. Blair is becoming more and more Clintonesque as time goes by. Labour rode on this issue before the election, and we're only going to put in more money before the next election.

You said:

It is hard not to applaud the government for the extra money being provided for the NHS. However, as a student nurse I feel all the money in the world can be thrown at the NHS but public perceptions of nurses has to change.
Jim Sethi, Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales

No matter how much the people care for good public services, tax rises seem to be a form of political suicide. But this risk must be taken. Successive governments for the past two decades have done little to help the NHS - if it finally arrives because of focus groups and electioneering then this is clearly good for the country and utterly shameful for all politicians involved.
Richard Bullen, Saltburn-by-the-Sea

It infuriated me to hear Baroness Jay say smugly that she NEVER used private health care. Last November my wife developed symptoms that her GP decided would require an operation to cure. He estimated it would be six weeks to get an appointment with a consultant, then a further 18 month wait for treatment. The condition wasn't life threatening, but caused extreme discomfort, and restricted her to sitting in an armchair for most of the day. Four weeks after the operation, she is starting to resume her normal active life. Unless the title Baroness means you get some priority which the rest of us don't get, I don't believe that she wouldn't have forked out 3600 for similar treatment.
John Smith, Lincoln

I find it a bit rich for the Lord Strathclyde to complain about the Labour government's composition of the voluntary make-up of health trust bodies. Under the Tories we had 12% of "professional" trust members coming from the property development profession. A clear indication of where Tory priorities lay for the health service. 18 years of cronyism toward management consultancies within the NHS has helped to cripple a once premier service.
Dave Putson, Belvedere

The Labour party simply failed to deliver. Yes, they have injected funds year-on-year, as have all previous administrations. But not enough and to the wrong departments - too many managers and not enough trained skilled nurses and doctors. Capital building projects, giving us new hospitals while closing cottage hospitals, is uneconomic in the long term. Patients recover quicker in smaller hospitals and they appear to run more efficiently.
Paul Wakeling, Redruth

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General comments:

Bullying in school is a major problem for teens to cope with because of discrimination against homosexuality. I know this because I am 15 years old and am being bullied for being gay. So, I would like to recommend that the government bring out a law that makes people realise that people are different and stops this kind of nasty behaviour.
Steven Williams, Hereford

For Craig Harry: Wrong. What the taxman has done is make it impossible for us to invest in training & equipment, and to provide decent employment benefits for ourselves. Unless we can squeeze all that - plus accountancy and company fees - into a measly 5% of our turnover.
Kevin Peacock, London

I was surprised that no *e-* related questions were included for the benefit of the Yahoo! Europe MD, especially since a number of related measures were included in this week's budget. Is the Blair's baby really more important than the dot.com economy?
Eric Ahlers, Cranbrook, Kent

In the days when Robin Day was chairman there were occasions when half the programme was devoted to one question and all of the panellists were given plenty of opportunity to comment. Under David Dimbleby's chairmanship, in contrast, there appears to be more emphasis on getting through a set number of questions and inviting comments from the questioner and other members of the audience than in giving the panellists time to develop their points. For example, Brian Sewell this evening on the question of the legitimacy of the House of Lords attempted to broaden the issue by alluding to the legitimacy of the House of Commons and was stopped in mid track for not sticking to the point, despite its obvious relevance to the question.
Jane Rosoux, Hendon, London

As a devotee of "Question Time" how refreshing it was to have Brian Sewell on the panel. He gave us direct opinions, even though I did not always agree with them, in his measured tones and not the dogma that we continually get from the politicians.
Des Rylands, Runcorn

We witnessed tonight a distinct change in David Dimbelbys' chairmanship. He tried to liven up the debate but came over as too impatient. He attacked the Conservative speaker far more aggressively than the others, and worse still, allowed Margaret Jay to dominate. I am bored with him referring to the performance of the former Tory government. Let him use his energy to question current government representatives.
George Galbraith

Don't you think that it would be a good idea to teach children in school about the basics of politics? I am of average education but confused when debates begin to discuss referenda, life peers, the EU and EEC and other political terms. I would imagine more than 50% of the population don't understand what they mean. Test the population and you will be surprised
Ann Teece, Oldham

I was very sorry to hear Baroness Jay tarnish her own very correct views on tolerance over prejudice vis--vis asylum seekers and refugees with her very intolerant retort to Fabiola Arredondo. Fabiola's remarks were diminished to that of 'outsider' status.
MC, London

On IR35 & IT professionals: So the Taxman has finally caught up, and forced thousands of small companies (as contractors like to be regarded) to put more of their income into training, superannuation, sick and incapacity insurance, and the like. Everybody knows it was the exploitation of a loophole - I certainly do as I've exploited it for years!
Craig Harry, Liverpool

Where was Michael Portillo? In budget week?!
Leigh, Lancs

In view of the government's tax increase on cigarettes and beer, and the 250 million investment to combat smuggling. Don't you find it hilarious that a government creates a black market then invests millions to combat it?
James Dickson, Lowestoft

Taxes were originally introduced into this country to pay for armies to fight abroad. Since then, we have been gradually been brainwashed into a state of mind that says the government is able to spend our own money more effectively than we can as individuals ourselves. We are not trusted to spend our own money. I have moved to Guernsey partly because the UK tax regime now punishes me.
Mark Leaman, Guernsey

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