John Reid: You Ask The Questions

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Stop beating around the bush: are you going to stand for the Labour leadership? JOE STANLEY, Bristol

Until the Prime Minister has announced the date of his departure, I will not comment on any future contest.

I can conceive of circumstances in which I might like to shout "Boo" at a passing prime minister. Would you wish to retain this freedom? MARTIN DENNING, Bristol

You can shout "Boo" to the Prime Minister if you want. It's not illegal. I support freedom of expression, within the constraints of our law designed to curb the extravagances of racism, hatred and violence.

Why do civil liberties always have to be "balanced" against something? W KELLY, Morpeth

People do not live in isolation. One individual's rights have to be "balanced" against another's. This has been the basis of all civilised societies.

It seems biometric passports can be read from 30ft. The same technology is being used in ID cards. Why do you persist with this expensive folly? ROBERT RINGROW, by e-mail

The question is factually wrong - international standards mean that e-passports are designed so that data exchange is possible only at a distance between the reader and the chip of a few centimetres, not 30 feet!

Will the Government compensate people if their identity is stolen from the National Identity Register? RICHARD CLAY, Glasgow

The Register will be safe and secure. For example, staff operating it will be security vetted and it will be a criminal offence to tamper with the Register.

Does prison work? ANDREW WOZNIAK, by e-mail

Prison works as the best way of punishing those who have committed the most serious offences, protecting the public from dangerous offenders, and allowing the full possibility of rehabilitation. Our prisons are doing an excellent job managing some of the most difficult people in society. However, I believe we can always be smarter about the way we use prison. There are undoubtedly people in prison who should not be there and who could be more appropriately dealt with in the community or in treatment.

I am a young Muslim. Whenever Islam is associated with violence I have condemned it. When Muslims have been the victims of Islamophobia, where is the condemnation? MAJID HUSSAIN, Guildford

I have said consistently we need to condemn all forms of hatred. There is no dividing line between me and Muslims. All of us who share values of tolerance, respect, liberty must oppose those who don't.

Why do you continually pander to the right-wing press with populist policies on immigration? DAVID CREIGHTON, Prague

It's not pandering to populism to protect our country from illegal immigration or international crime. It's my duty as Home Secretary. I am committed to creating a fair and effective immigration service precisely so that unscrupulous people can not abuse the system.

If you were faced with poverty in Africa, with a life expectancy of 40, wouldn't you seek a better life in the West? GUS TRAORE, Hackney

I have spent my life committed to helping counter international poverty. However we need to balance that with having an immigration system that is robust, efficient and fair so that we can welcome those who need our help while keeping out those who seek to exploit our hospitality.

Wouldn't it be better to cut the number of economic migrants to accommodate more refugees? AMY CHINDOVE, by e-mail

They are two separate issues. We'll always offer protection to those who need it and would never put a limit on the number of genuine asylum- seekers. Only by having an asylum process that people can trust will we be able to build the support genuine asylum-seekers need.

Why do you lock so many people up in detention centres and how can you justify locking children up at all? DEE COOMBES, Liverpool

We don't detain people unnecessarily. We don't detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, apart from in exceptional circumstances.

Foreign nationals facing removal can be detained for years. Why inflict such callous suffering? ALEX GOODMAN, Gray's Inn, London

It's a myth that foreign nationals can be detained without any judicial oversight. People in detention have always been able to apply for bail. There is always a presumption in favour of granting temporary admission or release. Detention is often a vital component of enforcing removal, but is only used where necessary, and for the shortest possible time.

My partner is in one of your immigration removal centres, and at great risk if returned to Iraq, but you still seem determined to return him to his death. Do you not want British citizens to have foreign partners? JOANNE BEAN, Burton on Trent

I've always spoken positively about the cultural benefits migrants bring. However, we have to balance that with ensuring people are here legally; part of that is preventing people coming here for one reason and then applying for permission to stay as the spouse of an individual.

Are the British more respectful as a result of your "respect agenda"? DANIELLE NYHAN, by e-mail

To paraphrase a soundbite: respect is a process, not an event. I know from speaking to people across the country the action we are doing as part of our Respect Agenda is making a difference to people on a daily basis.

I am a lifelong Labour supporter. If you bring in compulsory identity cards, I will have no option but to vote Tory. Do you really want to be back on the opposition benches? LAURA MARCUS, Leek, Staffs

I strongly believe ID cards will bring huge benefits. No British citizen will be compelled to carry an ID card.

Do you like being compared with Fulton Mackay who played the prison officer in Porridge? IVOR YELOFF, Norwich

It's not a comparison I'd heard before. I've had much worse. He was a great actor, and the role was terrific.

You state you used to be a member of the Communist Party, but you also used to believe in Father Christmas. How old were you when you stopped believing in Father Christmas, and how old when you left the Communist Party? COLIN BURKE, Manchester

I'm afraid the quote is stolen from Denis Healey. P.S. Who says I've stopped believing in Father Christmas?

You suggest that the media class you as Tony Blair's "attack dog" only because you are from Glasgow and hold a PhD. Could you have earned your reputation through your own arrogant and belligerent behaviour? PETER COGHLAN, Dorset

Your opinion is every bit as legitimate as mine or anyone else's. But if you prefer your politics plastic rather than passionate, then I'm not your man.

Do you feel sorry for your old friend Radovan Karadzic, and where do you think he is? DEJAN BIGALOWSKI, London

These are matters for the International Criminal Court.

If you were in a sinking balloon with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and you had to push one of them out, who would you choose? ROBERT MILLAR, Bath

Who says that pair would give me a choice!

Could you explain why Scotland has its own parliament? Every time I turn my radio on I seem to be listening to a Scot. IB ROBERTS, Rhostryfan

Passing devolved power to the Scots, Welsh and Irish helps to counter-balance the simple fact of life that every decision on everything in the UK parliament is subject to an 80 per cent English majority.

How were you able to afford to take at least four years out to study? Did your late wife support you? SHERI BENNETT, Stockport

A small grant (of around 10 per cent of my previous salary) and working my way through vacations and part-time, with aid from Cathie's (late wife) wage.

Is President Bush as stupid as people say? CONNIE EVERARD, Manchester

If he's so stupid, how come he's been elected so often? I don't agree with many of his policies but in my dealings with him I have always found him to be an intelligent individual.

How accurate was Henry McLeish when he called you a "patronising bastard"? KIERAN JENNINGS, London

I think that is something you should ask Henry.

You look like a skinhead. Why don't you grow your hair a little? DAN OLENKU, Bristol

If only I could.

Even by the standards of politicians, you seem extremely dislikeable. Could you tell me something to make me change my mind? EMMA RATCLIFFE, Oxford

I don't know what you've got against politicians. Perhaps you should meet me before making up your mind.

What qualities do you possess to make you attractive to voters if you were considering standing for the Labour leadership? JAMES BROADBENT, by e-mail

I am more interested in the qualities I need to be a good Home Secretary, the job I am getting on with.

Are you as eager to get some Etonian blood on your hands as one of your allies has suggested? DAVE ALLINSON, Swindon

I try to judge people according to their opinions and character, not their school.

Who would win in a fight between you and John Prescott? ALEX NYE, London

I wouldn't want it put to the test.

What have you got against Old Etonians? SEB PARKER, Kensington

I have nothing against Old Etonians or old Fettessians for that matter, as Mr Blair will tell you. If you are referring to Mr Cameron, I merely believe David has little experience of the world that most ordinary people encounter on a daily basis.

Blair, Brown and you (and the spooks) got it so wrong on the war in Iraq, why should we trust a word you say as you seek to restrict our liberties? You're all a bunch of liars. TOM CLARKE, Rye

I am still of the view we took the right action in going into Iraq. I have no desire to restrict liberties, I wish to protect this country and its citizens from harm. Incidentally, it would serve you well in life - even on your terms - to distinguish between a mistake and a lie.

Next week: Richard Dawkins, Biologist

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