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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
October 25, Manchester
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The topics discussed on the programme were:

Events of September 11 influenced IRA's decision?

Audience question: To what degree if any have the events of September 11 influenced the decision of the IRA to begin decommissioning? You said:

I was disgusted by Ann Leslie's comments on Northern Ireland. Being from Belfast myself I found her comments about towing us into the Atlantic and sinking us offensive and almost certainly racist. What also disappointed me was the lack of any criticism of her remarks from the rest of the panel. Should their silence be deemed to condone her opinions?
Edward Arnold, Keele University

The IRA has been forced into the 'giving up' of arms. They saw that unless they changed their stance then the US public and government would change their views on them. They will probably only hand over useless weapons anyway. I hate to say it but I don't believe that the current actions being taken in N Ireland will solve the problem for long, as the difference between the sides are so great!
Giles, Shropshire

I was astonished to see the panellist Noreena the "anti globalism activist", pontificating about Northern Ireland and referring to Edward Kennedy as "an IRA supporter". Oh really! Then David Dimbleby corrects her by calling him a Republican supporter. Edward Kennedy is and has been a supporter of the constitutional politics of the SDLP and John Hume.
Dermot, London

I found comments about Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein in particular to be offensive, and in fact contrary to one of the commentators the British did go into Republican areas with tanks, the British did shoot stone throwers, in fact they shot school girls carrying cartons of milk! British state sanctioned terrorism was responsible for the development and rebirth of the IRA as the Nationalist community had no voice and no rights under the oppressive regime that Britain allowed Unionists to impose.
Carl von Ohsen, Belfast

I do believe that certain comments from the parties suggesting that the government should take greater steps in giving more to enhance the de-commissioning of arms is rather strange. Terrorists and the like have been released from prison, but it takes foreign events before there is any genuine disarmament.
R Medforth, Hull

May I please remind Ann Leslie that two young boys died at the hands of the IRA in the Warrington bombing? Jonathan ball was a baby and just because his dad was a quiet man, unlike Mr Parry who put himself in the spotlight, does not mean we should forget.
Angela McLean, Merseyside

The IRA and terrorism have not succeeded in bringing about a Northern Ireland assembly, they have hampered it. Sinn Fein were not allowed to enter peace talks until the IRA agreed a ceasefire, then the assembly was constantly being suspended because of the lack of decommissioning. Scotland has its own government and Wales has an assembly, both of these have come about without the need for terrorists or paramilitary armies.
John Ottaway, Paisley.

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Congratulate Ariel Sharon?

Audience question: Should we congratulate Ariel Sharon for spearheading the fight against terrorism? You said:

Where does Brenda Addison get her information from? Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, whose Arab population (roughly 20%) have more rights than in any Arab country. Does she also not recognise that it was Jordan that ethnically cleansed all Jews from the West Bank between 1948-67 and that no compensation has been forthcoming from Arab lands for their ethnic cleansing of Jews since 1948?
Michael, London

The killings in Lebanon for which Prime Minister Sharon has been blamed, were carried out by Lebanese Christians. A court of enquiry exonerated Sharon from blame, nevertheless he was demoted to minister of culture.
Alan Bennett, Canterbury, Kent

No, Ariel Sharon should not be congratulated, he should be condemned for crimes against humanity. Noreena Hertz's response - which was particularly objectionable - suggests Sharon's actions are justified because Israeli children have the right to go to discotheques without being blown up. Has she heard of the 11-year-old Palestinian girl killed in the playground last week by the Israeli army?
Dina, London

The question should have been "Should Sharon stand trial for war crimes?" He is undoubtedly one of the most ruthless leaders in power today. Whilst his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 was the highlight of his illustrious career, we should also thank him for his tactful visit to Haram Al Ash-Sharaf in September 2000 that started the second intifada. The reality is that this man IS a terrorist, and has the blood of more people on his hands than bin Laben ever will.
Martyn James, London

The question put to the panel about Ariel Sharon is obscene and the person who put the question is as repugnant as those who applauded him. Sharon will only be applauded if he has the courage to stand trial for war crimes to clear his name IF he is innocent of the charges against him. Meanwhile, for anyone to suggest that he should be applauded for clear violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention is tantamount to complicity in his guilt as a war criminal. The Palestinians have every right to resist occupation by any means available to them.
Sami A Joseph, Aylesbury

In her book "The Silent Takeover" Noreena Hertz states that the book is "unashamedly pro-people, pro-democracy, & pro-justice" (p.10). However her support for Ariel Sharon demonstrates that she does not believe that these principles apply to the people of Palestine and Lebanon.
Deb Malpass, Birmingham

It was a good surprise to see for the first time a BBC show which gave Israel a fair hearing. Fortunately, the show this time was not dominated by Arab myths. One can certainly understand the actions taken by the Israeli government lead by Sharon as they face the bloody Palestinian terror campaigns. We do not need to congratulate Sharon for his actions but we can justify them and we have a lot to learn from Sharon and his team if we want to win the war on terrorism.
Guy Setton, London

Thank you for trying to redress the balance. People were openly pro-Israel which makes a change. Someone has commented in this section that the Israeli army performed the killings in Lebanon in 1982. I wish to inform him that it was, and has always been the Christian militia that did the killings and NOT the Israeli army.
Robert Rosenberg, Hendon

Israel is a racist and terrorist state. Until now it has been able to get away with atrocities such as ethnic cleansing, apartheid, assassinations, land invasions, blowing up peoples' houses, and burying people alive. I believe that the world community should send an international protection force into the area to protect the Palestinians from Israeli terror.
Brenda Addison, Birmingham

What a lame response from Hilary Benn. It is a pity that Mr Benn Junior was so unwilling to answer the question. What we need now is leadership, not the empty platitudes of Mr Benn. We need leaders willing to say that settlements are provocative, collective punishment is wrong, and Palestinians need to have their own state. At the same time, the Palestinians have to recognise the right of Israel to exist. It's a pity when someone like Ann Leslie is able to take a more liberal and far-sighted view than a Labour MP.
Alan Bates, Philadelphia, USA

The Palestinian/Israeli issue is one of illegally occupied land, not religion. Why should the Palestinians have to accept the few crumbs the Israelis (supported by the US) are willing to give, when there are UN resolutions calling for their complete withdrawal from the occupied territories? And while I think Ariel Sharon is a war criminal and should be indicted in Brussels as soon as possible for the Sabra and Shatila massacres, I can understand his decision to invade.
Shazia, London

This week saw some real balance in the discussion of Israel. There was support for Israel that is rarely, if ever, heard in the rest of our media, but some healthy criticism too. This is the way it should be and I congratulate the programme this week, all the more so because this has been so lacking previously.
Michael Lewis, Hendon, London

How can you congratulate Ariel Sharon? If you congratulate this terrorist then you should congratulate Milosevic and Hitler. This man has been ethnically cleansing, this man has made Israel into an apartheid state. All we heard on tonight's programme was how innocent Israelis should be allowed to go to discotheques - should Palestinians not be allowed to live in their own homes? Israel is a bully and it is a farce that the West takes no action against it.
Saba, Telford

I found a lot of support from the panel and from the audience for the brutal acts committed by Mr Sharon towards those in the occupied territories. In the programme Mr Sharon was made a hero against terrorists which is far from true, but it's the other way round. Mr Sharon was the one who was responsible for the massacres of Sabra and Shatila. I MUST support the views of the LibDem MP who was very strong and honest with his comments.
Abdulkadir Omar, Middlesex

I was so disgusted at the comments of the panel that I turned the TV off. Israel was founded by ruthless terrorism - much of it against the British army whose soldiers were hung in public places to put the British off. The massacre at the two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon by the extremely well organised and disciplined Israeli army was not an accident but a war crime. If this had happened in the former Yugoslavia the Americans and the Europeans would be pressing to get the commanding officer (in this case Ariel Sharon) into the court in the Hague.
Tim Conolly, Dewsbury, W Yorks

What a pleasant change to actually hear balanced views on Israel, both pro and anti, rather than the one-sided anti-Israel rhetoric which seems to have been a feature of BBC programmes lately.
Laurence Miller, Prestwich, Manchester

Sharon and his government including the extremely unpleasant right-winger shot dead last week, have been practising ethnic cleansing and any congratulating of Sharon would be a disgrace.
T Penwarden, Devon

The audience came out with the usual myopia that defenders of Israeli aggression come out with, and the panel did little to counter this apologia for fascism. Furthermore, Noreen Hertz has exposed her right wing core, in ignoring the settlements, and the assassination, economic exploitation of Palestinians, out right racism against Israeli Arabs and, above all, their attempt to create Bantustans.
Tom Bloggs, London

Whatever Ariel Sharon does, can we really expect any success considering that the Palestinians refused Ehud Barak's offer of 99% of their requests which would have left Israel just 9 miles wide at parts. We have to see the root of the problem which is the social deprivation of the Palestinians, a problem for which the surrounding Arab states have offered no help.
Zak Jeffay, Manchester

Noreena Hertz and co need to realise that Sharon is a terrorist as well and while Israelis should be able to go to a disco without being blown up, Palestinians should be able to be in their own houses with out being shelled. The number of Israelis killed in the latest violence is about four times less than the number of Palestinians, and many Palestinian dead have been children.
T Chant, Exeter

How can anybody expect the Palestinians to accept the word of Ariel Sharon when he was the orchestrator of the massacres of the sabra and shatilla refugee camps in 82. It must be realised that the Israeli army is as much a terrorist organisation to the Palestinians as the militant Muslim factions are a terrorist organisation to the Israelis.
Michael Jackson, Newton Abbey

No nation in the world has a better claim to their land than the Jews have to Israel. Exiled from their homeland 200 years ago, millions of Jews have since been persecuted for their belief in a G-d and a home, Israel, that is so tiny you can hardly find it on the map and that has no natural resources, not even water. In contrast Arabs turn their backs on Jerusalem and face Mecca to pray.
Michelle, London

Sharon should be roundly condemned. Whilst I fully support the right of Israel to exist within the '67 borders, it is the policy of colonisation of the West Bank that is the cause of the current problem. The appalling bad faith of the Likud government in fulfilling its obligations under the Oslo agreement which it opposed have fanned the fires of hatred.
Chris, London

Why is it that the state of Israel can occupy Palestinian lands and then terrorise the population for over 30 years but still receive the backing of the West who are self-proclaimed opponents of terrorism?
Yousuf Fenn, Bury

Unbelievable that the panel did not condemn Sharon and his government in the strongest possible terms. Israel has just been engaged in a terrorist raid on Beit Rima, laying waste that village and killing indiscriminately, in much the same way as they have done since Deir Yassin in 1948 (a village massacred in a deliberate action to terrorise all the Palestinian people into leaving their homes so that the land would be ethnically cleansed for the sake of an exclusive Jewish state).
Nick hall, York

I was encouraged by the discussion on Israel. It is the first time I can remember there being a balanced discussion on this issue on BBC. Usually, the BBC is dominated by the Arab/Moslem perspective. At least there are people out there who aware that Israel is really in an impossible position because it has fundamentally aggressive neighbours.
Philip Kaye, Nottingham

The fact that everybody forgets is that the Jewish problem was dumped on the Arabs by the Europeans and Americans, who immediately recognised the Jewish state in Palestine that they would never have in Europe, where they come from. Fifty years later the Americans want peace but ONLY on Israeli terms. Those who blame Arafat also forget that there are hundreds of Jewish settlements that Israel is leaving behind.
Frank, London

Yes Sharon should be congratulated. There is already a Palestinian state it is called Jordan. If Palestinians want to live in Israel that is fine but to try and take a portion of the little that Israel has is not going to happen. Also however much Israel gives it will not be enough.
James Dyer, Seaford

To compare Sharon of Israel with a fight against terrorism is like saying that if Mr Adams was to be leader of a state and he started his own fight against terror then he should be thanked. Why does everyone forget that Israel was formed due to the terror activities of its founding fathers? Israel was formed on the same basis as the Palestinians want their state to be formed.
Asher C Mupasi, Stoke on Trent

How can the Palestinians rest easy when Ariel Sharon was the instigator of the massacres in the Palestinian camps in Beirut? He is not capable of compassion and should not be in charge.
Christine, Southampton

I am appalled that Eric Forth a member of the shadow Cabinet does not condemn Ariel Sharon and the current Israeli government out of hand. Does he want the Tories out of power for a generation?
Christopher Horne, Watford

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Use of cluster bombs justified?

Audience question: Does the panel believe that the use of cluster bombs is justified in the war against terrorism? You said:

Mr Dimbleby should take his participants seriously and let them finish speaking. Ann Leslie was talking about the serious effects of cluster bombs and how she had travelled to Iraq after the Gulf war. Mr Dimbleby joked and told her that he knew she had travelled a lot and to get on and answer a question that was put to her about cluster bombs. That was exactly what she was trying to do by giving her account of Iraq. Mr Dimbleby should have been more sensitive and listened to the subject of cluster bombs.
Mr Patel, London

Carried to a logical conclusion this argument that we should use any method to protect our troops could be used to justify everything including germ warfare and nuclear warheads. The test must be how likely it is that any particular weapon will injure non-combatants. I believe that by this test experience shows that the use of cluster bombs cannot be justified.
Ian Hall, Worksop

The panellists know nothing about munitions. Cluster bombs are for lightly armoured vehicles. I was very disappointed in the quality of debate tonight.
Ray Walters, Doncaster

First landmines now cluster bombs. What criminal nonsense! At least when the Pope banned the use of the crossbow, he made it plain that the ban only applied to wars between Christians. Sooner or later the Taleban army has to be dealt with, and, whether this is done by American/British infantry or by the forces of the Northern Alliance, it would be quite unacceptable to launch an attack if the air support could not use its most effective conventional weapon against soft-skin targets. This war will be difficult and dangerous enough without the politicians disarming our own forces.
Lloyd Davies, London

Darren from Bromley to be perfectly blunt your comments are idiotic. It is silly thinking like that that drives people to be so called terrorists.
Chet, London

I totally agree with Eric Forth, on the issue of cluster bombs. We cannot expect our troops to go in and do a dangerous job, restricting them by what methods they can use to do this job. They are putting their own lives at risk, to make life better for others. They must and should be allowed to use the best means possible.
Steve Fuller, Brighton & Hove

To be perfectly blunt, why should we care if they don't explode? Admittedly they may harm some "innocent" people but we are at war and all is fair in love and war as the saying goes! Anything that will shorten the war is good in my opinion as a country cannot fight if it has no people to conscript - harsh but very, very true!
Darren, Bromley

The panellists on the show are all wrong. To be fair, they know very little about the types of munitions being used. This especially goes for the liberals. The war is justified. The weapons being used are not Area Denial. These are the ones which compare to landmines. The combined munitions being used are designed to take out lightly armoured convoys - such as land rovers and jeeps. All the people who know NOTHING about the armed forces, tactics and munitions should shut up immediately!
Ben Seager, South Brent

Anything the military can do to suppress the enemy before land troops go in should be done and the use of cluster bombs can be highly effective and this may save more British lives when we eventually and hopefully go in.
Dom Conway, Whitley Bay

If the Americans choose to use cluster bombs let American troops go in on the ground instead of the constant cowardly but 'politically safe' bombing from a safe distance.
Angela McLean, Merseyside

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Those who speak out against military action like the appeasers of Adolf Hitler?

Audience question: Are those who speak out against military action and express dissenting views like the appeasers of Adolf Hitler in 1938? You said:

I think Eric Forth is wrong when he asserts that the majority of the UK population supports the war in Afghanistan. Recent surveys show us that well over half of women questioned are against the war. As women make up approx 52% of the population, it appears the majority consensus is in opposition. Personally, I think it lunacy.
Anne Chadwick, Chichester

Surely the real question is would Mr Marsden lay his life on the line for his country, and if after the parliamentary debate of the various options it was agreed by a democratic majority that military action was necessary would he then go along with it and if he was eligible and conscription applied, enlist and fight for the very freedom that allows him to speak his mind? I suspect that should it come down to it, Mr Marsden and others like him prefer to enjoy the privileges and freedoms of a democracy, however, if it came to the crunch he would not fight for them.
Jeremy Mercer, St Peter Port

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Blunkett's announcement on cannabis send out dangerous message?

Audience question: Does David Blunkett's announcement on cannabis send out a dangerous message to young people that the use of cannabis is safe and socially acceptable? You said:

Blunkett is on the right tracks. The sooner that cannabis is fully legalised and tax and duty is levied on the product, the better. The funds raised from these taxes could then be used for drug education and rehabilitation facilities within the NHS.
Smurf the Printer, Manchester

In relation to the amount of police time used on dealing with alcohol related incidents cannabis abuse pales into insignificance. The current laws against cannabis make criminals of otherwise law-abiding citizens. People highlight the harmful effects but they are really not on a par with the state-sponsored substances - alcohol and tobacco.
Daniel Mapps, Newport

The decision on possession of cannabis was right but for the wrong reasons. Cost is not a valid inhibitor. It is no more harmful to the individual than the drugs of tobacco and alcohol. Socially, it has much a much lower social cost - alcohol fuels violence and aggression and is a powerful factor in many accidents. The wrong message given to youth is the utterly lax enforcement of laws regarding under age drinking.
Maria, London

The relaxation of the laws regarding cannabis is only 30 years overdue! Prohibition, particularly of cannabis, has been the greatest conspiracy ever committed AGAINST the people of this planet by its so-called leaders. Cannabis is not, and never has been, any kind of threat to civilisation. Full legalisation is long overdue, and will arrive soon. David Blunkett is a man of vision whom history will judge to have been right.
Alan Mason, Carlisle

Does this mean that ANY criminal activity that proves costly ie wife beating/noise pollution etc etc, to the police will be de-criminalised to suit the government's cost cutting measures and statistical manipulation?
Derek Gordon, Cardiff

I think it is time to have a more realistic perception on cannabis. It is nowhere near the social-decaying drug alcohol is. I have suffered violence from people and they have never been smoking cannabis, they have always been drinking. More people than you care to realise use this drug and they are frequently in a position of responsibility and they are responsible. They treat cannabis as all things should be treated, with moderation. Stop wasting police time on crimes that don't harm society.
Amy St Claire, Manchester

It is not a harmful drug (has Noreena even smoked it?) and it doesn't lead to going onto harder drugs. We have got to realise that whatever the law, drugs will exist and to realise that cannabis will not lead to taking heavier drugs - it is the users who want more. Great Britain has always been 20 years behind other countries and it is about time that it was recognised as being a part of our society.
Christine, Southampton

I disagree with the statement regarding the change of policy over cannabis states that cannabis is now safe. In a democracy people have a choice, and I think it is a great idea that people can choose to smoke cannabis. Are we not fighting a war in the name of freedom? Interestingly, consider the government pressing for GM foods, which, if you ask me, is more 'unhealthy', than having the odd joint. And thankfully for once, I can say 'yes' I do smoke cannabis, without the fear of being arrested. Now that is freedom.
William Topping, Manchester

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General comments on the programme:

Absolutely fantastic! I might be very late in the game but I have just discovered Question Time's latest edition on the internet! I am British but have lived in the USA now for nearly 10 years - one of the major programmes I miss since moving over here is Question Time - a fabulous programme with no equivalents.
David G Holmes, Chicago, USA

What an insipid mealy-mouthed and disappointingly pale version of his marvellous and inspirational father Mr H Benn is. Compared with the clarity of Lib-Dem Matthew Taylor he seemed vaguely right wing and wimpish - bit like the government he's a member of, actually.
Stephen Yolland, Melbourne, Australia

How good Matthew Taylor was. What a brilliant voice for the Liberal Democrats. He was the most balanced, open MP on the panel.
Alan Mark Smith, Bromley

Re Tony Augarde's posting. Red poppies have been on sale to the public in Manchester for over a week. I was in the audience and several people were wearing poppies.
Mike Francis, Manchester

Another 'Benn' another disaster! Two weeks in a row.
John, Aberdeen

Three cheers for Noreena Hertz. Her calm, considered and lucid views put the (muddled) politicians to shame. Noreena for prime minister.
Harry Baker, Farnham, Surrey

Sorry, but a panellist called Benn I assumed came from Labour. However, from his pronouncements I take it that I'm wrong and he's a Tory. Then I read your titles. How confusing New Labour is!
John Monaghan, Dublin

Once again I have been irritated by David Dimbleby's pompous attitude towards his guests. Tonight he has surpassed himself with his rudeness towards Eric Forth MP when the MP was attempting to answer the question.
Mrs L Sankey, Cleethorpes, NE Lincs

Why were David Dimbleby and three of the panellists wearing red poppies when these are not yet on sale to the public? The producer must have allowed them to be available, so why didn't he/she also allow white poppies to be available for people to wear? It suggests an unbalanced desire to influence viewers by publicising the red poppy.
Tony Augarde, Oxford

Tony Benn is my hero. What a bitter disappoint that his son, Hilary, is not a patch on his father.
H Jansen, Oslo

Of all the panellists this evening, Mathew Taylor was by some considerable margin the most eloquent, intelligent and all round impressive. More particularly, on the Middle East and war issues, he addressed the real issues in a most competent fashion. Well done Mr Taylor!

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