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Monday, 18 September, 2000, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Sept 21, Southampton
The topics discussed last week were:

Fuel Tax

Audience Question: Should the government reduce tax on fuel?

Clare Short: We can't do it as a knee-jerk reaction to some people. We cannot run the government's finances like that. Oil prices have gone up world-wide, not just in this country. Petrol price has been reflected by this. We need to encourage selective car use and we need a proper debate on the best way forward.

Germaine Greer: No I do not think they should put up taxes. It was wonderful when there were no cars on the road and having to eat what was in the freezer. It was a wonderful bunker moment. But something has to be done about the rail service in this joke; it is a joke.

Andrew Lansley: I think the government should cut he fuel tax. And I think they should not have put it up to what it is now. I suspect that most people feel that when the Tories said they would cut fuel tax by 3p per litre, many thought that was not enough.

Menzies Campbell: Andrew isn't being whiter than white, more greener than green. The truth is the Tories introduced the price escalator. I have always been against fuel taxes because the money saved not go into public services.

Vivienne Parry: But people are paying tax on tax.

You said:

The price of petrol is too high. However, are we really prepared to allow this current single issue determine which party is elected to govern at the next election. Can anybody really imagine what it would be like to have another Tory government ruining our lives again?
John Gascoigne, Bradford

I am sick of the debate on fuel only focusing around the farmers and hauliers. As a father of a disabled teenager what about his transport costs, it is impossible for him to get his large electric wheelchair on public transport, what "rebates" are the genuinely disabled people going to get? As for the argument about high taxes on fuel because of the environment, this does not hold water when one considers the world statistics of fuel prices and relative taxation. Well tough. You the politicians entered this public arena, now deal with it, and deal with it based on what the people want, not what you think they want.
David Bridge, Rayleigh

Why should WE pay the highest fuel-price tax in the world, and why should WE pay more to buy cars generally than any of our European neighbours? Impeccable finance policy no way. This is a tax that is OK for the rich but not for the masses each time the tax rises it makes the rich/poor divide ever greater. The government is accountable to us, not we, en-masse, to them.
Howard Bayley, Brighton

The tax on fuel should be for the maintenance of our road network not for the health service and education; we have income tax for these services, surely an increase of 1 or 2 pence in the pound. This would be a preferable way to raise funds rather than use fuel duty to subsidise these services. Why doesn't the government tackle this issue instead of continually trying to financially cripple its own people?
Mrs C Nurse, King's Lynn

I was rather surprised that the British hauliers can deduct VAT from their fuel costs. This is not the case in Belgium. So even if the prices are higher in Britain, it means that in the end, they are cheaper for the professional transport sector. As a member of the audience said, in France for instance, you pay toll for using the motorway. I think that simply arguing about price of petrol is taking the debate of context.
Decreasing taxes on fuel though is not the answer. There should be a global energy and transport policy in Europe to tackle this problem.
Dieter Morre, Belguim

To me it is wrong, to set alight to someone's property whatever it is. I would be called a terrorist. If I stand on the road asking a trucker not to deliver the oil, or is it a case of I am not powerful enough? Or not in the right profession, i.e. not a pilot or MP or lord. The law is the law, irrespective of who you are or what your name is.
Ken, Essex

As a disabled person (I cannot walk) I have a 'Motobility' car that I pay 37.00 each week which is the total of my Mobility Allowance. I have found that because of the cost of petrol, (an automatic car uses more!) I can no longer get out as much as I would like. The government gives disabled people the means of getting about with one hand and with the other hand restricts their movement. I live 400mtrs from a rail station but cannot use it because the only way in is by stairs 30 of them. Can't get my wheelchair on a bus either.
Jon Banks, Scotland

The hauliers are principally protesting about the difference between the cost of tax on fuel purchased in the UK compared with continental Europe because they have to compete in a single market. If you look at the EU website you will find that it is explicit that tax harmonisation is necessary to the proper functioning of a single market, but the Government continues, even today, to deny this because it is politically afraid to admit that loss of tax sovereignty is a consequence of the participation in that single market. Yet there are already explicit European rules governing the rates and applicability of VAT which are binding on the Parliament of this and all other EU countries.
Alan Marshall, Southampton

I think that the Labour party should reduce fuel tax and also find a way to stop the oil companies increasing the price of fuel when they themselves has a high profit.
Martin Corb, Birmingham

If the Government says that the reduction of fuel duty would in turn end up causing harm to public services such as schools and hospitals, What will the Government do if we all stop using our cars and use public transport? Which is what they profess to want, and the reason they raised fuel tax in the first place for?
Graham Hunter, Chester-le-Street

This Country has no alternative to oil-fuel. Public transport is far too expensive, cycle-ways are laughably unusable and there is no other fuel to use. No wonder we are revolting about fuel-tax, our backs are to the wall!
Mat Walker, Isle of Wight

The road hauliers now say that they want the duty reduced on diesel for the road haulage industry only; not a general reduction for all motorists. I wonder if they would have received quite as much public support if they had made this point before the protests.
Adrian Bridgman, Swansea

When the British revolt against high petrol prices and blockade roads threatening the British economy, they are upstanding citizens. When my compatriots revolt against high petrol prices and blockade roads threatening the French economy, they are thugs. Can somebody explain to me William Hague thinking?
Pascal Jacquemain, UK ex France

A member of the audience suggested that in France they had replaced fuel tax with road tolls. Its is my understanding that tolls are only charged on the major motorways. I would have no problem with this. Scotland as far as I know only has two motorways. I have to use my car to travel the 20 miles to my work every day and once a week to travel 10 miles to Inverness for the weekly shop. In all rural areas public transport is a joke. So if they want to replace fuel tax with tolls I'll vote for them.
David Franklin, Scotland

This country has been heading and is heading for a major upraising. The country is fed up to the back teeth with being ripped off. Tony Blair should learn a lesson and remember it well, this is the tip of the iceberg.
Timothy Pope, London

When are these politicians going to realise that no matter how good public transport is we will always want to use our own transport
Keith Lanham, Birmingham

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Petrol: Bringing the government down?

Audience Question: The petrol boycott has not brought down the price of petrol but has certainly brought down the government. Would you agree?

Clare Short: But we have elections in this country and that it how this country will decide.

Andrew Lansley: I agree with Clare, the country will decide at the election.

Vivienne Parry: "A plague on all their houses!" What I would like to see is people in essential services should be able to reclaim vat on fuel as do hauliers who can claim vat on their fuel.

Germaine Greer: Where do they get their ideas from, for example; how can drunken hooligans be marched to the cash points. Which planet does Tony Blair live on?
Panic buying was caused by people not being able to trust this government to provide the essentials.

You said:

Does the government not realise that we understand that 80 per cent of 30 dollars per barrel of crude oil is greater than 80per cent of 20 dollars and if they had listened to the road haulage industry and given them a "esstionale user rebate " they would not have been in the situation where the whole nation is now looking for cheaper fuel.
Rex Coleman, Bedworth

Nobody seems to be asking who the petrol protesters are and what their real agenda is. All of the information I can find out about Farmers for Action and the Boycott the Pumps campaign is more anti left than concerned with levels of fuel taxation. Could we be witnessing the growth of direct action by the militant Right, a shot of Tony Blair attending anything is not complete without a Countryside Alliance protest in the background.
Dan Mason, Liverpool

The Labour government would do themselves a favour to wake up to the fact that it is not just the hauliers and farmers, they are acting as representatives of the British public who are not pleased at being labelled as bullying and intimidating. The only intimidation and bullying taking place is that of the Government directed at the lorry drivers, farmers and British public when they tell us what we should believe and be glad of.
Barry Hope, Liphook

Has everyone forgot 18 years of suffering under a Tory Government
N Bennett, Bournemouth

I'm not blaming the current government for the increase of insurance, loss of miras, loss of married peoples allowance, increase in fuel duty, higher car prices and electrical items than compared to Europe but I am blaming them for not tacking the issues of these prices increases and differences. Tackle unemployment, asylum seekers and immigrants and decrease their numbers.
John Ireland, West Midlands

People keep bringing up the Miners Strike as if that is one reason why Tony Blair cannot complain about Fuel Blockades. I'm sure that the Government is listening to the people but do the people always listen to the Labour Party? What is New Labour if it is not a rejection of the old left and it's macho posturing? We can hold our head up high in condemning these undemocratic protests.
Damien Stone, Dorset

One of the government's excuses for not reducing tax on fuel was because the NHS etc would suffer from the cut in spending available. Surely if Labour reduce tax on fuel the emergency services would reduce there costs on running ambulances etc. and therefore spending could be cut without making any difference at all to there budget. The only difference would be that everyone in the country would appreciate the increase in there wage through less expenditure (on not only petrol but it will filter through the system to cheaper goods.) Why do they always complicate matters?
Linsay Stichbury, UK

If this was a Revolution for the Peoples and not about self-interest then where were the farmers and the truckers when the Health Service was being cut to the bone by successive Tory Administrations. Thanks a bunch you lot - obviously a cheaper gallon is far more important. If this was a People's Revolution, no-one asked me if I agreed with it. Only history will reveal the true nature of this obscene spectacle that has one aim - and that is bring down a Labour Government.
Damien Stone, Dorset

If the Government says it listens and firmly believes in it's policies then call a General Election now. My view is that this Government has failed to provide an alternative mode of transport throughout the country to the private car, whilst increasing duty on all forms of transport. Labour came to power and initially achieved the targets it set it self; i.e. the economy, health, education. Why has it failed to deliver on transport? Solve it fast and you will win the next election.
Nigel Tonge, Lincoln

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Naming and shaming: Were they right?

Audience Question: Following the mob reactions was the News of the World right to name and shame paedophiles.

Germaine Greer: Either we have a legal system or we don't. Either we have people commit a crime, serve their sentence. There's 1 million paedophiles in Britain which makes me think that it is just a part of human nature. Its gone into a complete state of nonsense, like confusing paediatricians with paedophiles.

Vivienne Parry: Vigilantism has always existed and it exists because people feel something is not being dealt with adequately. And we do not deal with child sex offenders adequately, sentences are not long enough. This was a serious attempt to bring paedophilia into the headlines. It was stopped after one week when it was deemed unnecessary and wrong. But people should have access to the sexual offenders' registers. Scout Clubs still have to pay 1 million a year to check the list.
I think for far to long children have been ignored and put at the bottom of the pile.

Clare Short: Children are most likely to be sexually abused and murdered by people they know - members of their family.

Andrew Lansley: I think it was the wrong thing to do, but I agree with Clare Short that it is those people in positions of trust that abuse. I think it is important that the government brings in the criminal records checks more fully and I have argued that Scouts and Guides should not have to pay those costs.

Menzies Campbell: The law is not perfect but you don't do justice to one set of the community by doing injustice to the other parts. I would have felt more confident about the News of the World campaign if they have contacted the NSPCC before they started their campaign instead of a week later.

You said:

The government is ignoring public opinion on the Sexual Offenders List as though it does not matter. This arrogance is reflected in the bad attitude of (badly performing) schools and councils towards the parents in my experience. A government voted by a minority of the people is effectively representing an even smaller minority is this Democracy?
I do not think so, it looks like the people only matter as far as they serve to give 'legitimacy' to self centered politicians.
YG, London

Paedophiles are disgusting and deserve everything they get. They should be castrated. However, there is no excuse for people attacking somebody because they look like somebody whose picture has been published in a newspaper. If these people who carry out the attacks can't think that there could be several people in the country who look the same, then they can't be very intelligent and don't deserve to have children themselves.
Peter Wilcox, east Yorks

Instead of painting paedophiles purple, why not castrate convicted paedophiles that will take away their urge to sexually offend children?
Mrs Jayne Foard, Hampshire

The sex offenders register is a powerful tool in the fight against paedophiles but let's not forget that it is not just paedophiles on it. To allow public access would just ensure that the bigots would be able to go on more witch hunts, ruin more lives and distort justice yet further.
Jake, London

The idea of naming and shaming brings up a very complex legal issue of persecution. Paedophiles are named and shamed because they are seen as a threat to children and also to the well being of a family. I admit that this is a widely held view within society. However, if we are to name and shame paedophiles why do we not name others who cause a undue threat to society. Armed robbers, murderers burglars, fraudsters, terrorists, those convicted of GBH/ABH, should not these people also be named and shamed as they also cause undue threat to society?
By naming and shaming paedophiles only we are, in effect, persecuting a single section of society who are just as guilty of breaking the law as others are.
Charlie Jenkins, Stowmarket

The contributor at the end mentioned Direct Action in the areas of fuel tax protest and GM foods. She didn't include the child molestation issue, where again sections of society seem to think that the rightness of their opinion justifies their taking any action they like. The arrogance of journalists who think that they know better than professionals - or who fail to consult those professionals before embarking on a course of action - is as breathtaking as the arrogance of those who think that their opinion on GM foods or fuel prices justifies any action at the expense of others. Maybe Mrs Thatcher was right - maybe we have forgotten how to be a society.
Stuart Selkirk, Sleaford

Nobody seems to have considered castration as the answer to sex offenders and this relates to rapists as well as offenders against children. I certainly support Germaine with a mauve dye although nobody will have the guts to take either of these suggestions forward.
Chris Ray, Eastbourne

I understand if paedophiles are allowed to be released from substandard sentences (financial crimes bear longer sentences than rape, abuse, and power over trusting naive children) that they must be monitored "X" register, the anger that exists is the fact these people are entitled to protection versus Does anybody out there want to explain to Sarah Payne's (or next victims) parents how well this system is working.
Neil Denton, Brighton

Vivienne Parry tells us that after consultation with organisations like the NSPCC, the News of the World made a decision to drop their inappropriate press campaign of naming and shaming paedophiles. Given the fact that innocent people mistakenly became the targets of violence and suffered abuse themselves, would it not have been wiser to consult organisations such as the NSPCC PRIOR TO the launch of the campaign. This, to my mind, demonstrates a commercial motive behind this outrageous campaign and that the campaign was not entirely conceive and launched in good faith.
Terry Morgan, Knutsford

I think all sex offenders should be put on a secluded island, each with a packet of seed and a watering can, and that is all. I am sure everyone in this country would be willing to fund a project like this rather than keeping them in 5 star luxury jails and safe houses. the offenders would then soon realise what it would feel like to be vulnerable and defenceless, after all there is always somebody who is going to be bigger on that island!
Kerry, UK

Tony Blair should respond to what the people who put him where he is today; he has lost my vote. Sarah's law should be that people who commit a sexual offence against a child will have their details made public - it is then up to the individual to think if such a crime is really worth committing.
Nicola Robbins, Bristol

What a pity that the News of the World representative was not challenged when she claimed they only named people for one week...they named them for two weeks. Also that nobody pointed out to her that they were hypocritical in publishing a pictures of a 16-year-old nude girls in the same issue as naming paedophiles. I felt that panellists were frightened of her and needed the paper on their side.
Barry Greene, UK

There are many sexual offenders of whom the authorities are unaware, simply because they were convicted before the Register of Sexual Offenders came into being. Although I do not necessarily think there should be unrestricted access to the Register, why has it not been made retrospective?
Audrey Paterson, Argyll

Why couldn't the government introduce a system similar to criminal history checks where the person to be checked has to authorise the check. This would restrict access to the information to people who needed to know.
Chris Howard, Wrexham

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Dome: Spending an Olympic amount

Audience Question: Wouldn't it have been better to put the 176 million from the Dome into the Olympics?

Clare Short: Well, I don't like it coming from Birmingham! To be fair most people who have been enjoy it. I think it should be put out of its misery. And in short yes it would have been better to put money into training people for the Olympics.

Andrew Lansley: As International Development Secretary, I'm surprised that Clare didn't mention all the international aid and charities that could have benefited from the Dome's money.

Vivienne Parry: I propose a lottery and you pay a 1 and the winner gets to blow up the Dome!

Menzies Campbell: I believe we should have had four or five monuments or facilities around the country, two hundred million here and there would have been much a better memorial to the millennium.

Germaine Greer: I've been to the Dome twice and I loathed it! But your athletes are telling you they are not happy and yet nothing is being done. If the Dome were a barn on a farm it would have been burnt down months ago for the insurance!

You said:

I believe that the concept of the Dome continues to be worthy, especially the use of the space available to enable Britain to invest in. Perhaps some negative media reporting has been deliberately directed to prevent the Dome achieving its customer targets for the benefit of their own ends and those whom they may be linked with. I haven't been to the Dome 'though I should like to. I was glad that when we reached 2000 Britain had a visible statement to make in support of world wide understanding of how we got to this point and where we all could go in the future. I am seriously dismayed by the degree to which educated people seem only to be able to blindly repeat what they've read in some rather dubious newspapers.
Timothy, Swindon

How to solve the problems of what to do with the Millennium dome AND how to safely test GM crops - put the crops IN the dome providing a location free from potential cross-pollination... what does everyone think ?
Chris Gaunt, Leeds

I feel that instead of the Dome becoming a complete disaster why don't we use the Dome to our advantage, for example transforming the Dome into a Sport Village which the general public would benefit from.
N Terry, Sandwich

I think that when we have finished with the Dome, we clear out all of the rubbish contained inside and turn it into a greenhouse to safely grow and test genetically modified crops.
Terry Cullum, Essex

I can not believe what I have just witness. Three politicians casually passing of the DOME as a flop. They displayed a total disregard for the fact that millions of pounds of taxpayers as well as lottery money has been totally wasted. Ah well, who cares they'll get it back through taxation.
Antony Robinson, UK

I just wondered whether the Millennium Dome could be used as an Olympic-training venue for British athletes for the next Olympics.
Kevan Wigman, Woking

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GM: For better or worse

Audience Question: Does the precedent set by the not-guilty verdict of the environmental protestors set something more dangerous than GM crops into the countryside?

Andrew Lansley: I don't agree with what they did. It's not for me to question the decision of the court. But destruction of crops is extremely harmful and unfair on the farmer.

Menzies Campbell: On the evidence that is in the public domain it is a perverse decision. If we get into a situation whereby we can say which laws we are going to follow and which we are not, then pretty soon the reliability of the system will come under a great deal of threat.

Vivienne Parry: I think truth is the loser here. The object was to find out what was the effect of GM crops and now we don't know.

Germaine Greer: I agree it was a perverse judgement. What worries me is that Monsato has to much to do with it; it is being led by the industry, which is wrong.

Clare Short: We have got to see it GM food is beneficial and I think the rest of the platform will agree that this needs to be done in controlled and regulated environments.

You said:

There was the common misconception on last night's programme that GM crops result in lower pesticide usage. THINK ABOUT IT. You don't make a crop more tolerant of a chemical so you can use less, you do it so you can use far more, thus killing everything else in the field and near vicinity without also killing your cash crop. GM crops will result in poisoned fields, poisoned animals and birds and ultimately poisoned people.
John, Brighton

A general thank you to the BBC for debating the social and moral effects of GM crops, not just the science. More of the same please, ladies and gents.
Neil Lomax, Birmingham

The fact is that genetically modified foods have the possibility to feed the world, save millions of children worldwide due to the addition of genes coding for vaccines. Rice can be modified to produce abundant vitamin A saving millions of people's eyesight in third world countries. Yet the main thing that people moan about is the inclusion of BT genes into the main crops when if they bothered to read any literature on the subject then they would realise that most organic farmers drench their crops in the bacteria. This is far more likely to produce the mythical super bug than any G.M crop.
Alex Wilshere , UK

GM "crop trials" depend on doing the environmental damage in order to find out if GM does environmental damage. Once genes are released they cannot be contained again. Is that real science or "Monsanto" bought and paid for "science"?
D Stepan, Yorkshire

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General comments on the programme:

Once again the chairman allows the debate (especially on fuel taxes) to become an attack on the previous Tory administration. They have been voted out of office and it is time the supporters of this government were the focus of the debate. Come on Mr Dimbleby, give the audience what it wants - answers to the questions concerning the public by those who make the decisions.
Rob Frost, Surrey

I have been interested in politics for many years, and have met two of the panellists on tonight's programme (Ms Short and Professor Greer). But to have 5 people, plus Mr Dimbleby, is simply too many. The answers can only be rather superficial sound bites, and can sometimes be quite unintelligible when two people speak at once. Four should be the absolute maximum, preferably three, to allow development of an argument. Most TV interview programmes are dumbed-down enough. This should not go the same way.
David Skinner, Coventry

I watched this evening's programme, and was disgusted at the behaviour of Ms Clare Short. Her continually interrupting members of the panel who were attempting to answer questions put to them showed a complete lack of basic manners. The problem was compounded by the lack of control shown by the chairman who made no attempt to silence her. One hears quite a lot these days about unruly children. Looking at your programme; can they be blamed?
Peter Swales, Camberley

What a night - never thought I would find myself agreeing with either Germaine or applauding Claire but I did tonight. When these two proffer that Labour policies are failing; we must take note.
Anthony Howarth, Bradford

Too many missed opportunities by Dimbleby allowed Clare Short to sit and smirk at the consequences of her governments actions. The Dome like this government is heading for destruction.
Simon Williams, London

What is the chairman playing at? On the second question tonight some of the speakers were not even allowed to answer. And Clare Short was allowed to interrupt anybody and everybody without the chairman interceding. Or is this another example of dumbing down?
Richard Rawson, UK

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