May 25, Cardiff

May 18, 2000

May 11, London

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


May 25, Cardiff

Panellists on the programme this week were:

  • Rhodri Morgan MP AM, First Secretary of Wales
  • Dafydd Wigley MP AM, President, Plaid Cymru
  • Ann Widdecombe MP, Shadow Home Secretary
  • Bharti Patel Director, Low Pay Unit
  • Boris Johnson Editor, The Spectator

You can join Question Time's internet debate by emailing your views on the topics discussed in this week's programme to: questiontime@bbc.co.uk

You can watch the latest programme online in Real Video by clicking on Latest edition.


The topics discussed this week were:

Hague's pension plan

Audience Question: Is William Hague's proposal to add 5.50 per week to the basic state pension - generous gesture or Conservative con?

Rhodri Morgan: A bit of fiddle really. He thinks he has latched onto the various opportunist ways to salvage his zero ratings in the opinion polls. He has done it on law and order, asylum seekers and now he seems to be doing it on pensions. But all it means it that it is attacking the poorest people in society. A total con.

Ann Widdecombe: I always get a bit cynical when we are called opportunistic. If we didn't address people's concerns we would be called arrogant and dismissive, when we do address concerns we are called opportunistic. What we are doing is looking and listening and trying to respond to that. However, there is a gain for every pensioner. It is just the whole little bits rolled up into a much better basic pension.

Bharti Patel: The Conservative Party have been very dismissive on pensioners who are now 30 worst off and that needs to be given back.
I'm waiting for Michael Portillo to take the minimum wage up to 5 per hour. But any increase has got to be adequate.

Dafydd Wigley: If you add all the benefits which are to be lost, if pensioners have a minimum income over and above there pension, will they then be liable for income tax?

Boris Johnson: It was the Tories who got this going and why shouldn't the Conservatives speak up about this.

You said:

I don't know why I watch Question Time really, because the panellists invariably make my blood boil. Widdecombe on Pensioners- am I alone in believing this to be an utterly cynical ploy? Does anyone believe them? Have we forgotten the 18 years of Tory rule already?
Andrew Stroud, London

Over the past 20 years the group which saw their income increase more than any other was the top 10% of the 8 million pensioner households. The bottom fifth saw their income increase by about one third of this. The minimum income guarantee ensures the poorest pensioners get more - with winter fuel allowance, TV licence etc with the oldest and poorest pensioners living on their own will be 15 per week better off and couples 20 - that is 100 per year. We need also to reward thrift - those with modest savings and or pensions that currently feel that it has not been worthwhile saving for old age. The pension credit, which the Chancellor announced in the budget, will address this. Fairness is an important British value - it is surely fair in this way to do more for those pensioners who lost out - to redress the balance of the rich growing richer while the poor continue to do less well?
Linda Gilroy, Plymonth

It is about time that as a country we started looking at the future problems the current pension system is likely to cause. Being a younger member of society I find it very amusing that people seem so concerned with the little that they get now in comparison to the benefits that future retirees, who are currently contributing to society, are likely to receive from the state.
The only way forward is to introduce pension reforms whereby members of society are encouraged or even obliged to contribute to personal pension schemes, most likely private schemes. Whilst I acknowledge that there is an apparent problem, it is simply not feasible, or justifiable, to continually demand more ever-decreasing resources from a nation whose government appears determined to radically increase our invisible debt.
Adrian Paterson, Beds

I believe that the Tory idea of scrapping the winter fuel money given to pensioners is absolutely ridiculous. Many pensioners have, and indeed still are, suffering in the winter due to the extreme cold, worrying about putting their heating on because they can't afford to. The 150 allocated for fuel gives them the ability to not worry about whether they can afford it.
Andrew Morgans, Tonypandy

Hague's pension ideas are pie in the sky: pensioner's won't be better off if they have one set of benefits taken away and stretched wafer-thin through the whole year. Of course Mr Hague can say whatever he likes - it isn't as though he'll have to put any of his schemes into practice after the next election. The electorate isn't yet ready to trust government to the Tories.
Ian Webster, Southend-on-Sea

Current pensioners who have paid for years into the pensions fund and N.I. contributions should take the various governments to the European Court. If a private organisation had tried to defraud the pensioners in this manner, they would be guilty of fraud.
J E Cross, Shrewsbury

All politicians make great play of the extra burden of people living longer. They never mention the number of people that pay in but die before reaching pensionable age.
Tim Murphy, Essex

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Doomed Dome?

Audience Question: Should we not now admit that the Millennium Dome is a failure and spend the money on more deserving causes?

Boris Johnson: It is a failure. Of course it would have been lovely if the money had been used more positively. I think the people who started the Dome should be held responsible for it and carry the can.

Dafydd Wigley: The total cost 759 million - just think what could have been done with that, for example millennium community hospitals.

Bharti Patel: We don't do enough to celebrate and that was the reason why Dome was created - to celebrate the new millennium. The problem was it was a temporary measure. Now it has so much negative publicity it is doomed.

Rhodri Morgan: I've never been a supporter of the Dome and if it has got to shut in July when the money runs out - its got to shut.

Ann Widdecombe: Straight forwardly - shut it down or sell it off. It's as simple as that.

You said:

A friend of mine works as a defence analyst for the German government, and he has calculated that for the extra 29m that the dome has received, he could hire the Luftwaffe to fly over and raise it to the ground. A bit extreme maybe, but at least it has more of a historical edge to it than the Dome's exhibits.
Stuart Goodacre, Lincoln

From conception to construction the general public were never given the opportunity to express their views as to how the Millennium should be commemorated. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the public do not support the Dome. It is the view of the majority of people that the Dome should never have been built because it is a waste of public money which could have been better used elsewhere. Likewise, the general public do not condone further millions being poured into an already catastrophic white elephant!
Henry & Dianne Egan, Slough

The Millennium Dome might have been more of a success if the media hadn't stirred up opposition to it.
Rob Winser, London

Why not turn the dome into a giant skateboarding and in-line skating park? You could put a great sound and video system in it. You could also put one of those virtual arcades in the middle. You might also want to get a developer to build one of those large cinema multiplexes just next door to further drive traffic. If you don't like this idea you could also develop a world class winter sports complex with ice rinks.
Pete Bawden, LA, USA

It's the tabloids who have reduced visitor numbers to the dome with their ignorant comments. Why don't they pick up the tab?
Maria Garavaglia, Oxon

The difference between those who loved the dome and those who don't - is between those who have actually been to it and those who never go to anything.
Stephen Gibson, Abingdon

When is someone going to do something about the disgusting way public money is being squandered on projects like the millennium Dome, and who is going to be held accountable to the people? These people I/C of public monies should be sacked, and never hold a position of trust again. They are all creaming the British people.
Tom Miller, Chippenham, Wiltshire

Although I have been unable to visit the dome, speaking to my English friends, my sister and her friends who live in England, I have been told that the Dome is excellent and at worst entertaining. What I would like to know is why is the media intent on condemning such a project (for reasons besides sales)? And why have so many people happily accepted the media's narrow-minded stories when In fact the Dome is supposed to be a reflection of Britons?
Matthew Coote, Michigan, USA

Who did the original financial planning for the Dome? Surely whoever over estimated the attendance and therefore the income figures should take some of the blame?
John W Fox, Doncaster

I would much rather see the latest 29m, let alone the total of over 800m, spent on something that would actually make a difference every day... for example helping get the homeless off the streets.
John, London, UK

The Dome is only getting what it deserves, I'm afraid. I recently visited the site with an anglophilic American friend who was staggered at the apparent determination not to display anything characteristically British. The only vaguely British exhibit was a mocked-up seaside pier, in which the arcade game involved moving bits of asbestos with a little mechanical arm. Dumbed down political correctness? What an awful combination.
Ben Broadbent, London

Musical chairs for baby Leo?

Audience Question: Does the panel believe that Tony Blair should allow baby Leo to play musical chairs when he is older?

Ann Widdecombe: Musical chairs is rather like political life, you go round in circles and then lose your seat! But seriously it is political correctness gone mad.

Rhodri Morgan: The business in childhood of getting aggression out is very good for them, as long as it is playful.

Boris Johnson: I agree with Rhodri - violent games made me what am I.

Bharti Patel: It's a good game, I play it all the time! And I encourage my children to play it too.

Dafydd Wigley: Music is very important to babies and young people. And if they are brought up with music in their lives it is a very good conditioner for life.

You said:

Don't you think that it is stupid that Tony Blair's baby has gaining him an extra 6% in the opinion polls? Surely you vote for the man who will do good for the nation and not because he is looked at as a fantastic " family man" with a baby?
Robert, Dartmonth

I judge form the comments of the panel and audience that not one of them had read the research from which the footnote quoted was taken. Had any of them read the research they might well have had a different opinion. My faith in politicians and some members of the public is reduced even further!
Colin Kidner, Billericay

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Time-out for Tony

Audience Question: Tony Blair is taking time out at the to care for his child - is it not about time that all working parents enjoy the right to paid leave. He can afford to do this, most parents can't?

Dafydd Wigley: The emphasis here is on paid leave. It's not enough to give them paid leave. You need to make it practical for those people, the breadwinner, small businesses etc. We need to get the balance right.

Rhodri Morgan: Yes there should be paid parental leave. The Scandinavians are the kind of countries that we should be aspiring too with things like paid paternity leave, returning mothers to work faster and greater wealth.
Parental leave is very healthy for society in the long term - with an emphasis on family life.

Ann Widdecombe: Dafydd has identified the problem but had rather to glib a solution of the tax payer funding it. Yes of course its good thing that fathers spend time with their new-born - but compelling the tax payer to pay for it is not the way forward.

Bharti Patel: It has only been recently that people have gained statutory rights for taking time off, looking after children and working time directives. These are very important issues. Burdens on businesses and creating job losses - this is exactly the argument the Conservatives used with the minimum wage, which has hasn't created such problems for businessess etc.

Boris Johnson: You will find an awful lot of people who do not have children who will be funding the tax. But there does come a time when fathers do want to get back to work!

You said:

People need to take responsibility for their own actions in all areas of life, and stop looking to others for handouts. This may lead to more money in the pot for tasks such as regeneration of the inner cities, and giving all people the best start possible, things will never be equal.
Edward Barham, London

Paid paternity leave! Why not use your Holiday leave? The more ridiculous this money for nothing attitude that is displayed in the media and on Question Time, the less talented, hard working people will want to work. It all costs money and therefore means an increase in the Tax Burden. If you are taxed more for working harder, why work harder? At the moment Britain is booming, as there is some incentive to work harder. Take that away and the able and hard working will work less hard or move abroad. It is obvious. You want the sick man of Europe from the 1970s back. Then carry on with these ludicrous ideas.
Mark Searle, UK

My girlfriend earns a lot more money than I. Wouldn't it be more beneficial for my family If I were allowed to take time off in those first few months of the babies life so she could earn a greater living for our family unit. She also couldn't receive maternity pay because she hadn't been working there long enough, which is stupid.
Pete Wharrier, Middlesborough

Parental leave gives small businesses yet another burden to deal with. If our New Labour masters had any idea of business at all they would think twice before imposing it.
Howard Tolman, Epping

If people cannot afford to have children they shouldn't have them! I would like another cat but I cannot afford it. It seems quite a lot of people do not make this consideration when having a child and expect the taxpayers to automatically assist. I am not suggesting that poor families are not given financial help, but I have NEVER heard anyone say don't have children if you cannot support them!
Pauline Davidson, Glasgow

How are small businesses supposed to cope with compulsory parental leave? Who is to pay? How can they be replaced on a temporary basis? The burden of the present system is bad enough how can one cope with more? If you have only one of somebody how are you to be expected to cope with their absence? Up to nine months for mothers.
Jim Baker, Sidmouth

I am furious with the lack of understanding on the position of paternity leave. I have an old fashioned view of the family unit. They are a team who should work together to raise a family that came around specifically for the successful raising of children. If the wife or husband is running the household the other partner should be supporting the family financially as a team. When you choose to have children it should be done with clear planning and forethought. Lets get it right. I also believe that the Prime Minister's job is a full time job for two people, not a part time job for the partner of the Prime Minister I didn't vote for Tony Blair to run to pay him paternity leave whilst he is changing nappies. Running the country does not stop just because he thinks the welfare of the nation comes lower down his list of priorities.
Paul Tate, London

I believe that paternity leave should be compulsory for the first two weeks to give the child the best possible start, after all the Labour government is all about family isn't it?
Chris Brookes, Oswestry

Regarding paternity leave for workers - what's wrong with taking leave out of their normal annual leave. Most workers get 4-5 weeks paid holiday leave every year. I'm surprised no-one made similar comments. I agree whole-heartedly with the comment that small businesses could be severely affected by measures enforcing worker's rights to such leave.
Tom Evans, St Helens

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State school bias at Oxbridge?

Audience Question: Does the fact that a girl from the North east England who was refused entry to Oxford, but then accepted to Harvard, show that there is prejudice in Oxford and Cambridge to people who are from state schools?

Bharti Patel: It is very obvious that Oxbridge is geographically and class barriers as to who gets into Oxbridge. It is welfare society for the middle classes. But what we need to do is make sure all other schools should be adequately funded.

Ann Widdecombe: The facts are that 53% who were offered places at Oxford last year were from state schools and 47% were from private schools. With 50% girls and 50% boys. And this seems to show that there is not much discrimination. However, I should just say that Tony Blair and William Hague both went to Oxford, Tony from a public school and William from a Comprehensive.

Rhodri Morgan: I went to Oxford from a state school (and Harvard) and I'm just glad I was good at French and German after the interview experience. It does have a deep seated, institution subconscious where state schools are concerned.

Dafydd Wigley: What about the difficulties that hundreds of people are facing who don't get the financial support and want to go university.

Boris Johnson: I would like to say something about the people who the choosing. The academics - they chose people who they want to teach for three years and not some "hooray-Henry" who have been out getting drunk all night. It is much easier to produce the students who produce the better material, and they are the ones who come from private schools.

You said:

I was very disappointed at the so-called debate on the Oxford admissions topic. The interruption by the chairman when Ann Widdecombe was speaking was wrong - why did he not interrupt Rhodri Morgan's diatribe on admissions that must have been 40 years out of date. I am not defending any admissions system but Universities are striving to improve as we are under scrutiny from HEFCE and professional institutions - can that be said of the BBC? Please try to get some balance into programmes for if you don't you will lose your audience and eventually your funding!
Bill Black, Leeds

I was struck by the ignorance and base prejudice of significant numbers of the panel and audience. Two counter arguments may be advanced. Firstly, the percentage of state school acceptances in relation to both applications and total intake has steadily increased in recent years. More importantly, admission is based not only on A-levels but also on the spark that will maximise the use of this education both personally and academically in University and later life. That is the information which interviews add to school reports. No one has asked whether this girl has the balance, drive, enthusiasm and interpersonal skills which Oxbridge develops and which continue to attract a wage premium even as Oxbridge comes under increasing scrutiny. The whole saga panders to primal emotions of envy suspicion and hatred. Criticising two remaining centres of UK excellence will not improve this under-trained, low productivity society.
Timothy Andrews, Oxford

I have never heard such rubbish in all my years of watching Question Time regarding the comments about Oxford. I am a northerner (Oldham -complete with a very strong accent!) Our daughter gained a place at Oxford in 1995 (after years of study and parental support). I have never met such a nice group of people from a variety of backgrounds. She is now back home studying for a Ph.D. She has experienced the sort of ill informed remarks and jibes made on your show from people who have a rather strange view of Oxford (usually without direct experience themselves). I know which university I found the more friendly, sadly it was not my home one! As a final note I find it sad that our daughter only reveals which university she studied at when pressed due to the sort of prejudice shown by some people against Oxbridge.
Pauline Gick, Stockport

I disagree with what Matt Hall says. The point is not that the students who apply to Oxbridge don't have the necessary qualifications to succeed, but that the ones from state schools don't have other qualities that the interviewers are looking for and don't possess the necessary interview technique that their equally qualified public school counterparts do. In my opinion this is vastly unfair and the way in which students are selected should not focus at all.
Christopher Clegg, Manchester

I went to public school but not to Oxford, Cambridge or any other University. However, my work a few years back did take me to the vast majority of state schools in London. My wistful conclusion was that standards in too many of these schools were abominably low and that selection was made by postcode and not by intelligence. It is bad enough that a far superior education may be bought in this country, but it is many times worse that a good education is denied to the poor by the very forces of egalitarianism that purport to assist them. Most state schools simply do not provide the vigorous standards that are necessary to prepare students for the best Universities in the land. A grammar school system would allow poor, bright students to attend good academic schools and enable them to break out of the poverty cycle.
Adrian, Stamford

David Dimbleby's figure that 95% of pupils come from State schools is irrelevant. The key question is the number of pupils who leave State schools with eligible qualifications compared with those who do so from independent schools. Only then can we make a judgement about whether a bias is at work statistically.
John Sheppard, Bath

I totally agree with Boris Johnson in that the barriers that prevent state school applicants from succeeding in their applications to Oxbridge fundamentally lie in the national education system as a whole. The private sector has the economic capacity and resources to produce the best candidates; a capacity that is not matched in the state sector. Hence, we should not look towards the institution that is Oxbridge when in search of the root of this problem.
Matt Hall, St.John's College, Cambridge

Whatever rules are in place will not displace the feeling of class inferiority at places such as Oxford and Cambridge. When I was a child I could have gone on to further education but it wasn't economically possible.
Christopher Andrew Brookes, UK

Oh for goodness sake Boris Johnson! I totally disagree with almost everything he says, but to claim that private education is so significantly better than state, as to justify an absurdly large discrepancy in the entry figures at Oxford, is surely the most absurd statement I have ever heard him say. Having finished my BSc at Durham I am taking a PhD course at Cambridge next year. I hope this is due to my suitability for the course, and that alone. No-body should ever be discriminated against in such circumstances, for any reason other than academic suitability!
James Hair, Durham

I agree that there is a great deal of prejudice towards state school candidates for entry to university. I am an 18 year old applicant for medicine who was predicted 4 A's in Chemistry, Biology, Maths and English. I was rejected from Cambridge and Imperial University after interview, and was not even offered an interview for Newcastle University. If this is not evidence of the fact that the old boy network is very much alive today, then I don't know what is.
Kike Olalide, Newcastle

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General comments on the programme:

All those people complaining that the audience is biased should realise that they are selected on a representational basis and reflect a true political view in society. The reason the audience seems anti-Tory is because most people are anti-Tory.
Kelly, Cambridge

This is the first time we have seen Rhodri Morgan. He started with s totally gratuitous personal insult to Ann Widdecombe. Wholly unacceptable. He is also a windbag. David Dimbleby let him ramble on and on. Boring!
Anthony Boyd, Reading

I appreciated David Dimbleby's witticisms - they helped to give the programme an atmosphere of fun - and thanks for interrupting Ann Widdecombe; keep on interrupting politicians with your pertinent questions!
Anna Wood, Leuven, Belgium

Undoubtedly the program has an incredible amount of left wing, new labour bias both in the selection of panellists and possible selection of the audience. It is interesting that the feedback both on this site and the BBC news 'talking point' site on the same issues is usually much more towards Tory views, and I suspect much more representative of genuine public opinion. David Dimbleby is an excellent broadcaster and presenter, but he should be impartial and not let his panellists manipulate party political cheap-shot points.
Helen, UK

Mr.Dimbleby, you can get as indignant as you wish, but Anne Widdecombe was right to say that your interruption was predictable. Every week you listen contentedly as the Liberals and Labour have their say, then interrupt the Tory. The Tory never gets to speak coherently as you always break up the flow. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you simply can't adjust to the fact that Labour are in power now and so the Tories are allowed to waffle a bit. It's Labour who have to justify themselves. Sorry, but Anne was right.
Colin Woolley, Basingstoke

Well done Ann Widdecombe - one of the few Conservative guests who not only insisted on finishing her point before interruption (in respect of two questions in particular) but managed to achieve this by putting chairman Dimbleby firmly in his place. Maybe - just maybe he will take the message she gave him on board; it would make for a more balanced programme.
George Galbrait, Stirling

I am a regular viewer of the programme but am becoming increasingly concerned with the New Labour bias. Many of the non-political guests could be "pigeon-holed" as sympathetic to New Labour. Also the audience does not appear to be a cross section of political views. Much of the comments or gasps and applause can be related to anti-Tory or pro-Labour. Surely this does not reflect national opinion. I would not wish to stop tuning in to this essential political debate but my frustration with the programme is becoming more intense. I do hope that you listen to your viewers comments and protect the essential element of society which clearly needs a balanced audience and political presentation.
Stephen Rutter, Colchester

Lord Falconer's appearance recently highlighted the reason why Blair will not go for a fully elected House of Lords. Patronage is a valuable tool for him - he can make his mates Peers and keep them on side. Blair also claims to be championing democracy yet makes Falconer an unelected minister in the Cabinet Office. New Labour same old governmental misuse of power.
Matthew, Kingston

I welcome the introduction of panel members without a party political axe to grind. The possibility of real discussion rather than the tedious points scoring of politicians keeps the programme far more relevant.
Dave Graham, London

How come the government wastes so much time on abroad visits and then can't even pay out for health services and education.
Mohsin Khan, Nelson

One week Boy George, the next Steve Cram - should the programme now be re-named "err um"!
Roy, London

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