You ask the questions: Chris Grayling, Conservative work and pensions spokesman

Should Peter Hain resign? And will we ever see a bald prime minister again?
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Should Peter Hain resign? Bill Saint by email

That will depend on the outcome of the investigation by the Electoral Commission and the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. If he is found to have committed a serious breach of the rules, I think he will have to go. But even if he isn't, I struggle to see that Gordon Brown will want to keep him after the next reshuffle.

You put in many hours bringing ministers to task in the Commons. Which minister have you been most proud to have exposed? Patrick Weater by email

It's not really a question of being proud. I see it as doing the job of an opposition MP. I was critical of David Blunkett because I thought he was completely wrong to do the things he did. But I refused endless requests to comment on Tessa Jowell because I didn't actually believe she had done anything wrong, despite her husband's problems.

Do you think that there are any Labour ministers who are good at their jobs? Who are they? Karen Morinsson, London

I was always very impressed by Stephen Ladyman, and astonished when Gordon Brown sacked him. I found Alan Johnson and John Hutton to be very effective when they were doing the Higher Education and Health roles respectively.

You've had quite a few good shots at the government. So why isn't your profile higher? Sean Logan, Belfast

We live in a very presidential political system now, and so it's inevitable that only a tiny handful of politicians on either side will have very high profiles.

Is gay adoption to be encouraged? Colin Edwards by email

I have changed my mind over this issue. I think that children are best brought up by a mother and father, and believe that ideally children are best adopted into this kind of environment. But we have far too many children being brought up in care without a loving home, and I have come to the view that a loving home provided by a suitable gay couple is a better option for a child than being left in a children's home.

Why shouldn't people pay inheritance tax if they're rich enough? Nick Fields, Birmingham

They should. But the question is – what does rich mean. With house prices rising, many families now face inheritance tax bills for the first time. We think that far too many people on middle incomes are being pulled into a tax bracket that was originally designed for the rich.

Who do you like in the House of Commons? Peter Feckley, Little Hampton

I have some very close friends among Conservative MPs. On the other side, I have always tried to maintain good relations with my opposite numbers. Douglas Alexander in particular I found approachable and friendly. A nice man, though there was much we disagreed on! I also thoroughly enjoyed working with Gwyneth Dunwoody on the Transport Select Committee.

Are people being put off work by an over-generous benefits system, or is that just a myth? Anna Williams, Cardiff

I don't think a life on benefits could be described as generous, though there are undoubtedly some people who manage to play the system and do reasonably well. The danger is that a life on benefits can become more comfortable than taking what is sometimes a very difficult step back into work. But I don't think anyone ends up with a fulfilling life if they stay at home and live on benefits. That's why I think it's right to say that people should have to be taking real steps to get back to work as a condition of receiving benefits, unless there are real reasons why they can't work.

Isn't it ridiculous that public schools, attended by much of your front bench, are given charitable status? Tina Yardey, Queensway

Don't believe all the headlines. I went to a grammar school and many of my Shadow Cabinet colleagues went to state schools. Charitable status is one of those things that you might not introduce today, but had sensible origins. Epsom College in my constituency, for example, has always supported people from within the medical world who have faced financial challenges. To be honest, I think the Government would be better off concentrating its efforts on the things that are holding back our state schools.

What one policy would you force the Government to change if you could? M Akram, Wembley, London

I think the strategy of downgrading local hospitals will eventually prove to have been very short-sighted. So I would end the situation where so many smaller maternity and A&E departments face closure. Of course they won't be able to provide every aspect of such services, but I think we should prevent them from disappearing.

I'm unemployed. Why should I be forced to take a job that I'm obviously over-qualified for? G Harper, Lincoln

I think the big danger for anyone unemployed is that they become too isolated from the workplace. All the evidence is that the longer someone is unemployed, the more difficult it is to find a job. So I think it's much better to work and move on from there back into the right job than to do nothing.

Did you find the BBC to be institutionally biased against the Conservative Party when you worked there? David Sullivan by email

It's not biased as an institution. The problem is that its workforce can sometimes be unrepresentative of the range of opinions in Britain. I remember well the horror among many of my BBC colleagues when the Conservatives unexpectedly won the 1992 general election. That slant on life manifests itself less in news coverage, but more importantly in the way other programmes such as comedy and entertainment can reflect political issues – and sometimes disproportionately attack the politics of the right.

As an ex-journalist, do you think the media is to blame for the cynicism with which the public view British politics? Henry Richards, London, SW22<</b>/p>

I think it's a joint effort. If politicians always acted in a way that engendered confidence, then there would never be a knocking story to write. So we can't complain when we get it wrong, and they write the story. But I do think there's too much of a propensity to write knocking copy about politicians generally. Most politicians of all parties are decent, hard-working people who work long hours to try to get things right for their constituency and the country. That's why I try to avoid being critical unless there are grounds for being so – and congratulating my opponents when they get it right, as Peter Hain and Mike O'Brien did when they sorted out a compensation package for the pensioners who lost out when their schemes collapsed.

Is it possible to be an active journalist and an active politician without either job being compromised? Hillary Mitchell, Kingston

Not unless it is in an unrelated area of journalism. I think you can be a commentator, and write a piece expressing a view. I became active as a Conservative when I was working as a business news producer on Channel 4 – but our coverage was City-focused and not politically focused. When I joined the BBC as a news trainee, we were discouraged from political involvement, and that was right.

You're a US-watcher. So who would you like to see as the next US president and why? Eddie Collins, Seattle, WA

John McCain would be a wise head in the White House. Barack Obama would be an intriguing change. But if my record in backing winners at Epsom racecourse is anything to go by, my tip is bound to fail. So I'd better spare all the candidates the risk of trying to pick the winner.

Are you a Cameroon? If so, what distinguishes you from a Thatcherite? John Crighton, Leeds

We're all Cameroons now! Seriously, I think the big difference that has taken place in the Conservative Party has been generational. Virtually none of the senior people in the party were in senior positions before 1997. Our view on life comes from a different world and different circumstances to those of our predecessors in the 1980s.

Where do you go for a romantic night out? Gillian Parker by email

Not the Members Dining Room! For a local night out, the Curry House in Ashtead. For something more, Nikitas Russian restaurant. Both highly recommended.

Were people happier after the First World War than today? Sean Thomas, Manchester

We always look back to the past with rose-tinted spectacles, but I don't believe that Britain was a happier place than it is now – even though there are many new pressures today that people then did not face. Our generation has escaped living with the aftermath of mass conflict. In every era there are things that are good and things that are bad. There are some things we had then – like a culture of respect – which have dissipated now. But equally we have things today that people simply did not have then – like universal access to proper health care.

Who was better; Hague, Howard or Duncan Smith? Jeremy Theardon by email

They've all been important figures in the Conservative Party. William Hague remains a central figure in the Shadow Cabinet and will make a great Foreign Secretary. Michael Howard's great success was to reunite the party after 15 years of divisions. Once he became leader, Tory split stories all but disappeared. And Iain Duncan Smith was the architect of many aspects of the change that the Conservative Party has gone through, particularly in addressing issues like poverty and social exclusion. The ideas that he put forward on the social challenges that Britain faces will be central to how we tackle those issues in government.

Kinnock failed. Hague failed. Duncan Smith failed. Do you think we'll ever see a bald PM again (and should your leader be worried)? Jim Carlyle, Rugby

For all of those former leaders there were other reasons for what happened apart from hairline. But I do think you have to be a certain age before you can carry off baldness. One you are well into your forties or fifties you can carry it off in a way you can't in your thirties. But I'm not applying!

What is the point of a Labour voter voting in your constituency, when your vote is more than the other parties combined? Shouldn't we bring in a fairer system? Chris Hames by email

The problem with changing the system is that you lose the link between an individual and a constituency. The only way of avoiding that is the alternative vote system which produces even more disparities. I get no greater pleasure in politics than meeting a Labour or Lib-Dem voter who says they are going to back me next time because of something I have done locally – such as continuing the fight for Epsom Hospital. I strongly believe that politics should be about people and communities, and not party lists.

Shouldn't MPs give up their bumper final salary pension schemes like the rest of us have been forced to do? Richard Aimes, Orpington

MPs' pension arrangements will have to change, though we are pretty much alone in the public sector in having an actual funded pension scheme rather than just pensions paid for by taxpayers. The Conservative Democracy Task Force has recommended that future MPs should have a money purchase pension scheme, and David Cameron has supported the principle of change. I agree with him – though I also think it is wrong to change pension arrangements for anyone who is in the later stages of their career. That's why I campaigned so hard to get better compensation for pensioners who lost out when their schemes collapsed.

You once wrote a history of Bridgwater Canal? How many did it sell – and does it prove you are a nerd? Kate Barnett by email

It sold about 1,000 copies. As for the nerd bit, the book probably doesn't – but an occasional habit of watching old episodes of Star Trek might do!

Did you really once hit Aussie bowler Dennis Lillee for four? Eduardo Grange, Finchley

I did. It was in a charity cricket match and the ball went over the head of my old colleague, the BBC economics correspondent Hugh Pym, to the boundary. Lillee wasn't impressed, though – and sped up so much for the next ball that I didn't even see it!

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