Charles Kennedy answers your questions

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy answers questions posed by East Anglian Daily Times readers.Since the inception of the euro, the Liberal Democratic Party has been in favour of replacing the pound by the common currency.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy answers questions posed by East Anglian Daily Times readers.

Since the inception of the euro, the Liberal Democratic Party has been in favour of replacing the pound by the common currency. Adoption of the euro by the now "eurozone" countries seems to have created a Common Economic Disaster Zone in the EU. Are the Lib Dems in favour of joining in the disaster and, if they are, how would they propose to insulate the UK from the present problems, such as uncontrollable unemployment, or any which might occur in the future?

P. Fleming 60 Brook Lane, Galleywood, Chelmsford

I don't recognise your description of the Euro zone as a disaster at all. Since the adoption of the Euro in 1999, jobless rates in Europe have fallen overall. Ireland is a member of the single currency and has had growth of around 7% and unemployment rates as low as Britain.

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I believe we should join the Euro if the economic conditions are right for Britain. We were the first party to pledge to a referendum on the Euro. It will be a decision taken by the electorate - I will argue strongly the case for a yes vote - but the decision will be yours.

I cheered you after you said in Hyde Park that a war against Iraq would be illegal without a United Nations Resolution. A few days you were supporting our troops killing Iraqis. Did you change your mind, or do you now encourage criminality?

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R F Stearn, The Little Barn, Old Newton, Stowmarket, IP14 4EG

The Liberal Democrats voted against going to war in Iraq in parliament - without UN support, without the support of international law, and on the basis of faulty intelligence that has since been emphatically disproved.

Our troops didn't get a vote that day in parliament. They go where the politicians send them, fight on behalf of the country and do the best job they can. But once Tony Blair took the decision to commit British troops, yes, I wanted for them to succeed quickly, and for as many as possible to come home in one piece.

It is this Labour Government which took the decision to send our troops to Iraq, with the full support of the Conservative Party. It is they who must be held accountable.

You want to give prisoners the vote. Why? And if they had still been alive, would mass murders Harold Shipman and Fred West have been included.

R. Smith Colchester

In the UK the law treats prisoners as 'dead citizens'. We believe this is the wrong approach if we want offenders to return to the community as active and responsible citizens.

Because all but the most serious offenders will eventually be released, prison should prepare offenders to be good and law-abiding citizens, as well as punish them for their crimes. Having the vote is part of that.

Most of our European neighbours allow prisoners to vote, paying their debt to society while remaining part of it.

Your policy on replacing council tax by local income tax sounds fine, especially for pensioners, but it is going to cost working families far more each year. Surely the answer is to tackle local government spending, which is way out of control, rather than funding profligate local councillors?

Margaret and John Brown, Harwich

Local income tax is a far fairer system than the council tax because it is based on people's ability to pay - not on how much a house was worth in 1991 which is how the Council Tax is calculated. There are winners and losers in any tax system - but I think taxes should be fair and straightforward. A typical family would actually be £450 a year better off under our plans.

A study of our plans by the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies showed that about half of all local tax payers would end up paying less, a quarter would be unaffected and a quarter would pay more. You can see their full report at .

I am not in favour of Whitehall interfering in every dot and comma of local government spending. Each local community has different priorities and different needs and we have local elections so that people can choose a council that will best represent their town and spend people's money wisely.

a) If the Liberal Democrats win the election, or if it is a hung parliament in which you exercise some influence, will you press ahead with proportional representation? It seems to me that as no political party would ever have an overall majority at Westminster under PR, the horse-trading and brinkmanship seen over the Anti-Terrorist Bill and a sunset clause would become commonplace.

b) I'm fed up with the yah-boo politics in the House of Commons. How would you stop this petty, confrontational behaviour?

Henry Atkinson, Bury St Edmunds.

Proportional representation makes sure that no-one's vote is wasted. It has worked well in the elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. If we had had a proportional system in this parliament there would have been more Liberal Democrat MPs and we might have prevented Tony Blair dragging us into an unpopular war in Iraq.

The problems we saw over the Anti-Terror Bill were to do with the fact that the Government rushed a bad law through without first seeking a consensus on how to proceed on such an important matter of both security and civil rights.

A more proportional House of Commons would mean that consensual politics would be more common. That would also help with the 'yah-boo' behaviour in the House of Commons - it turns me off too.

Your taxation plans seem to me not to add up, because you want to finance everything from a new top rate of tax for everyone earning more than £100,000. Have you considered abolishing the upper earnings limit for National Insurance contributions - why should I pay the same rate as someone on £1m a year?

Mrs Abbott, Ipswich

We have published detailed costings of our plans because we believe that political parties should be straightforward about how much we would tax and where we would spend the money.

Our new top rate of tax would generate around £6bn a year. With that we can fund free personal care for the elderly, scrap student tuition and top-up fees and holding down the rate of local taxes. That is a targeted tax rise for targeted spending.

Our other commitments such as better pensions, lower class sizes and more police are funded by re-prioritising £5bn a year of existing government spending - cutting back in some areas to spend more in others. For instance we would scrap with expensive and ineffective compulsory identity card and put 10,000 more police of the street instead.

You can see the detail at

We won't be pledging to cut the upper earnings limit on National Insurance contributions at this election. But we do want fairer, simpler taxes for households and business - that is why I will be setting up a Tax Commission after the election to thoroughly review tax policy.

The remit will be to unpick the complexity that has been the hall mark of Gordon Brown and to recommend how the principle of fair taxation can be applied across the system as a whole.

Do you favour elected regional government in England and large unitary councils combining the powers of county and district councils? If so, how can this be described as local democracy?

G Francis, Lowestoft

We do support the move towards regional government, but it should be about taking power down from central government to the regions, not taking decisions away from local councils. That was the big flaw in the Government's proposals for the North East.

It was also a mistake to link regional government with a move to unitary authorities: any restructuring of local government must be 'bottom-up', driven by local people.

Woodbridge is being inundated by thugs and vandals. When can we have our quality of life back, without the hooligans who currently blight it?

James Joss, 12a Seckford Street, Woodbridge, IP12 4LY

First we should increase the presence the police on the beat to deter this kind of criminality. The Lib Dems would fund an extra 10,000 police and cut down on bureaucracy so they can spend more time out on the streets and less at the station.

Second we should make sure that if we are going to punish offenders it includes paying something back into the community they have abused.

But of course prevention is much better than cure - the answer must include better education and more opportunities for our young people so their energies are diverted into positive activities.

Will students have to pay local income tax if they get a part-time job to get them through university - if so, it would negate their free fees you are no proud of?

Christine Warren, Rickinghall (by email:

The vast majority of students don't pay income tax on their part-time jobs so they wouldn't pay local income tax either. But we would scrap student top-up and tuition fees and introduce fair grants. I don't think we should be saddling our young people with huge debts as they start out in life.

How can someone of my age 25 with a student loan debt of £15,000 get onto the property ladder with high property prices and stamp duty

R Sheppard, Lyle Close, Kesgrave, Ipswich

Under our proposals student debt would be lower because we would scrap student tuition and top up fees and introduce a fairer grants system.

And we plan to make affordable housing a priority, by investing in new homes and new ways for people to own those homes.

We would raise the threshold for stamp duty from £60,000 to £150,000. This will exempt some 400,000 first time buyers from paying any stamp duty.

But with house prices as high as they are, what we really need is to find different routes for people into home ownership.

We want to see a new type of 'mutual' ownership to help people get on the property ladder. Rather than buying the home outright, people could buy shares in a mutual home ownership trust that owned their home. Monthly payments then go towards buying more shares. When they want to move, a householder can sell their shares and use the proceeds to help buy a home on the open market.

It's an innovative proposal, but we know it is deliverable. Mutual homes have worked in countries across the world, from Denmark to the US.

Why is it necessary to build a second runway at Stansted Airport? How do you defend the destruction of the landscape and the environment?

L S Johnson, Braintree

As you may be aware the Lib Dem controlled Uttlesford district council has opposed the expansion at Stansted. A balance always needs to be struck in these cases between the needs of the travelling public and the economy on one hand and the environment and local communities on the other. In the case for a second runway at Stansted, I am not convinced the benefits outweigh the cost sufficiently to go ahead.

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