November 25, Birmingham

November 18, Durham

November 11, Maidstone

November 4, Glasgow

October 28, Southampton

October 21, London

October 14, Sydney

October 7, Manchester

Thursday 30 September, Bournemouth

Thursday 23 September, London

Thursday 15 July, Belfast

Thursday 8 July, London

Thursday 1 July, Birmingham

Thursday 24 June, Leeds

Thursday 17 June, Manchester

Thursday 10 June, Birmingham

Thursday 3 June, Norwich

Thursday 27 May, Bath

Thursday 20 May, Belfast

Thursday 13 May, Birmingham

Thursday 29 April, London

Thursday 22 April, Glasgow

Thursday 15 April, Cardiff

Thursday 25 March, Sheffield

Thursday 18 March, London

Thursday 11 March, Manchester

Thursday 4 March, Maidstone

Thursday 25 February, London

Thursday 29 April, London

On the panel:

  • Michael Heseltine MP, former deputy prime minister
  • Jack Cunningham MP, Cabinet Office minister
  • Charles Kennedy MP, Liberal Democrat agriculture and rural affairs spokesman
  • Charles Moore, editor, The Daily Telegraph
  • Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, columnist, The Independent

    Nail bombs in Brixton and Brick Lane

    Audience question: Should extreme right-wing groups be banned?

    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said: "Yes. Most definitely. I think all these bleeding heart declarations of how a free society needs absolute freedom of speech and expression is wrong. In this country we have never had an absolute freedom of speech and expression."

    Jack Cunningham said: "It's a very very severe step in a democracy to ban groups from associating together to express political views, however odious those views may be. And I would just pause and say that I don't think it's right to do it. We do have other ways of taking action against those people."

    Charles Kennedy said: "If you just drive things underground, in fact you're going to add to the difficulties that the properly constituted civil authorities have, to monitor, to police, and, if need be, to take action."

    Michael Heseltine said: "The law of the land has made a criminal offence for incitement to racial hatred. I would much rather let these people form groups, take criminal action against them if they use language which is designed to inflame [racial hatred]. And allow people to hear what they say, because I am sufficiently confident of the British people to know that in listening to the arguments, they will reject them."

    Charles Moore said: "We're talking about the right of people to organise political parties and ask for votes. And I think those are terribly, terribly important rights and one of the interest things about permitting this in Britain is when we hear these people's arguments we don't vote for them."

    You said:

    With regards to the banning of right wing extremist groups, I do not believe banning them is the right answer. Each person is allowed the freedom of expression in this country and to try and ban something reeks of some kind of totalitarian society. Although many people might not agree with what they have said, they are entitled to say it and live with the consequences.
    Gillian Lochhead

    Nothing is so precious as freedom of speech and those who try to curtail it should be strenuously resisted to the last.
    Ted Holmes

    Banning extreme rightist groups may appear as undemocrati, or drive them underground. But,imposing the stiffest, longest penalties for all of their crimes, even making new laws to include crimes about sex, race, religion, politics etc, may be needed. We are tired of being at the mercy of those criminals that our democratic laws protect.
    Athena Ghion

    While I do not condone anything that right wing groups engage in, I do see the reasons why these kinds of groups are proliferating in England. Britons have become a minority in their own country it seems. With a constant stream of immigrants pouring into the country isn't it obvious that there is a limit to what we can support? Let's face it, the word support in this case is figurative and literal. When immigrants get jobs and housing denied to people born and raised in England, is it not to be expected that there will be a response to this situation that will grow ever louder and eventually more violent? I'm sick to death of seeing my 84 year old mother denied any minimal assitance while millions of pounds are handed over to immigrants so that they can support their six wives, twenty three children and several dozen other assorted relatives, half of whom don't even live in the UK.
    Amanda Bradley

    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown quite obviously is more interested in protecting her own vested interests than sharing in a healthy democratic debate. I strongly dislike the Labour Party and their plans to tax me into oblivion, but I would never seriously suggest banning them. Racist political parties not connected to terrorism should be allowed the freedom of speech so that they may be held up to public ridicule. For once Michael Heseltine was right, the British public is well-educated enough to decide who not to vote for. We certainly don't need narrow-minded inverted racists such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to decide for us.
    Matthew Knowles

    Why is it that the IRA has rightly been proscribed for making terrorist attacks on civilians, but Combat 18 and the White Wolves are allowed to remain legal while preaching racial hatred and repeatedly violently attacking people from 'ethnic' communities? Why did the police not take action before the nail bomb attack , since the White Wolves had threatened such an attack in letters brought to the police's attention by anti-racist groups? How can prominent Asian peers and the Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar receive death threats from racist groups and be told by police and the House of Lords security service that it is 'not their job' to deal with such matters? Why have the murderers of Steven Lawrence in England, and a Pakistani man from Wishaw in Scotland all walked free? The answer is that British police forces, courts and even parliament itself are riddled with bigots and racists who secretly condone and even approve of attacks on blacks, Asians, Muslims and anyone else who is considered 'alien' to 'the British way of life'.
    Duncan M McFarlane

    I would not consider myself to have extreme views, but as a supporter of fox hunting many would consider my views extreme. If you were, for example, to take away the Countryside Alliance, you would be denying many people the right to express themselves. Whilst I do not condone terrorism in any form, to take away the freedom of the individual to contribute to the political agenda, be it through a political party, voting or a pressure group, you are denying the basic right that a democracy is based upon. The freedom of expression is a right, and our society could not function without it.
    Katherine Duke, West Midlands

    Civilization has already banned the use of gratuitous violence to achieve any means, and there are already any number of laws addressing crimes against society by either the extreme Right or the extreme Left. Freedom of speech has never encompassed the right to harm another physically, and hopefully never will. Passage of another, 'feel-good', liberal law will have no effect on the demented few in our society who are bent on their own and others' destruction. If a society is to survive, it must only meet out punishment for deeds against it, not thoughts, or we are all surely doomed.
    Joe Neal

    Firstly, while in no way wishing to defend the British National Party, I'd like to point out that they do not have a terrorist wing. To compare them to Sinn Fein is erroneous. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, visibly out of her depth, seeks to ban those she does not approve of. What about citizens who do not approve of what she says? I understand she writes a newspaper column. But I would not seek to ban it even though I think her views, like her startling and basically wrong assertion that British democracy would not be affected by joining the euro, are both laughable and dangerous.
    R Lewin

    God forbid if Hitler had the freedom of speech and the freedom to set up a political party to try and win votes for his cause in this country. I wonder what the Jews would have to say if that was permitted to happen. Maybe the British public would not mind a Saddam Hussein representative to set up a political party in this country in an effort to win support on issues on how to murder the British public and terrorise their families and friends. The truth is, extremism is extremism and no one "really" has this so called freedom of speech, expression or to set up political parties. Politicians need to let their intelligence shed a light over the lack of ignorance that always seems to dominate their views.
    John Samuel

    Clearly, what racist groups are advocating is the same thing as what's going on in Kosovo, and according to some members of the panel this kind of opinion is okay as long as it's black people that are threatened.
    Karanja Gaçuça

    I am alarmed at the bombings recently, but right-wingers are drawing support all the time by disaffected white people who live in the areas where ethnic communities are in the majority. You can stop the bombers, but you cannot prevent more people joining them unless both the ethnic and the English communities start working together. I know a family who have finally qualified for a council house in the Heathrow area and in the midst of a large Asian community, but has been told that they may have to go into B&B if the house is needed for a "more deserving case". What could possibly be more deserving than a family who has fallen on hard times but have lived here all their lives, lived honestly and worked for the benefit of the community (they are both employed by the public services)? In the Southall area I got the impression English is a second language for the majority of the population, with notices, shops, road signs and even the tube station having a prominent display of Punjabi, Bangladeshi and Urdu. Listening to what is said by the respective communities, they feel marginalised by the white people, so have formed their own community which now sees white people being marginalised. The danger is, the white people have been here for generations and, in the English tradition of orderly queuing, see it as a case of ethnic queue-jumping where housing, employment and benefits are concerned. We English do believe in first-come, first served, but they see it now as "first come, Blacks and Asians first served". It isn't just the white communities who perpetrate unwitting acts of racism.
    Name with-held on request

    Although we all deplore the racist bombings in London, from my conversations a lot of people in London are fed up with being discriminated against in our own country, so what will stop that feeling?

    One of the panellists began to comment on Northern Ireland, and made the point that racism was the same as sectarianism. David Dimbleby seemed to then try to suggest that this was not the subject matter under discussion. WHY? Is the issue of racism simply a literal black and white matter? Do you have to be a PC minority to engage in the area of discussion about racism? Is there a neat pigeon hole effect at work here that perpetuates the issue that states that Northern Ireland must not be looked at in anything other than sectarian terms? If the BBC has this stance then can you appreciate how self perpetuating such views are? I live in the town of Omagh. Last August you were very keen to report on events here. Please tell me why PC extends simply to a perceived issue about skin colour.
    Clive Hanna

    Splits in the Conservative Party

    Audience question: Is the Conservative Party self-destructing and if it is, should we be lamenting its passing?

    Charles Kennedy said: "There is no inverse God-given law of gravity in politics that says what goes down must has to come back up. The history of the Liberal tradition in this century proves that, for many many decades unfortunately."

    Michael Heseltine said: "The Labour Party, which was of course doctrinally opposed to practically everything we did, has had to accept that we were right, that out arguments were proved, that the practice won the case. We are the most successful political force in human democratic history ... because we represent the grain of a huge natural instinct in people."

    Jack Cunningham said: "They are in a terrible mess, there's no doubt about it ... Are they finished? Nothing is irreversible in a democracy. In the very nature of a democracy, things can and do change ... It would be absurd and dangerous and ridiculous for the Labour Party or anyone else to write the Tories off."

    Charles Moore said: "I think there is a problem of differentiation and that arises for two reasons. One, that Tony Blair deliberately imitated Mrs Thatcher's Tory party and the other is that the Tory party has now got too scared, so that they don't dare to develop their thoughts too freely. They're too worried about image instead of really trying to convey a message."

    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said: "I think there's a deep collective subconscious move in the Tory party never to gain power again, in order never to inflict the misery they inflicted on us ... Not to have a serious, viable proper opposition will lead to a failure of democracy."

    You said:

    I feel the Conservative Party is a political dinosaur They have no ideas of their own and only live on past memories.
    Steven Middleton

    For the words "The Conservative Party" in the audience question, insert "Great Britain".
    David Parr

    Audience question: As William Hague's ratings ratings seem to be plummeting, is it time for a new election of a Conservative leader?

    Charles Moore: "No, I think that would just be more blood-letting, more trouble, no solution. The Tories have spent much too much time tearing themselves apart and therefore I think they should try and put themselves behind William Hague."

    White judge makes racist joke at Criminal Bar Association dinner

    Audience question: In the light of the current debate on institutionalised racism, should Judge Graham Bowle be for sacked for his after-dinner speech?

    Michael Heseltine said: "This is the first time it's been brought to my attention and if I was in government I would ask that question ... If it is accurate it is monstrous."

    Charles Moore said: "I'm highly in favour of jokes, I'm extremely against bad jokes and I think this was an extremely bad joke."

    Charles Kennedy said: "For anybody to make those remarks is indefensible and unacceptable, but for somebody who's actually placed in a privileged position, where in our society they can take far-reaching decisions about the nature of that society, it is absolutely beyond comprehension."

    Jack Cunningham said: "The Lord Chancellor has received a very significant number of telephone and written complaints about the conduct of this particular judge. I don't know what the outcome of that is going to be."

    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said: "Yes, I think he should be sacked. But have you noticed how the absolute freedom of speech argument has now collapsed?"

    Nato war strikes on Yugoslavia

    Audience question: Is the war over Kosovo now about the survival of Nato rather than the Kosovar population?

    Michael Heseltine said: "I believe we were morally, politically, right to take the decision that Nato took, and any other decision would have been morally and politically indefensible ... If you are the enforcing part of the civilised democracies of western Europe, you have to prevail. Otherwise every other dictator will know you are a busted flush."

    Charles Kennedy said: "I think we've not been helped by confusing signals coming out from the Nato leadership politically ... The difficulty is, you're talking about a large number of countries to co-ordinate."

    Charles Moore said: "In terms of the aims, at present we are doing nothing. We're bombing but we're not doing anything else ... It's moral posturing."

    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said: "The West has done something, it is doing something. As a previous pacifist as a previous, kind-of, anti American, I have had to swallow all of that because this is a just war."

    You said:

    I feel I must question why we should know all about the war in Kosovo, and why all our stratagies made so public. Nato might as well fax Milosovic every day with details of what they are going to do or not do. Is this a way to run a war? I'm not saying that the public or media shouldn't question, but leave the questions till it's over.
    Chris Evans

    Anger over the indiscriminate nature of the Nato bombings is causing serious doubts among the people and politicians of the participating nations. Why are we allowing the masses to be murdered in response to the acts of a minority of individuals? Furthermore, Nato's policy of double standards is becoming all too clear. Are the Kurdish people any less important than Kosovans? Given Nato's apparent dismissal of this most serious problem, why should citizens of Nato countries continue to support an organisation that obviously only supports its own selfish interests and that of the USA?
    N. Harrison-Roberts

    The politicians still feel they can talk about morality and justice. Got really caught out by the question of concerning the death of truth (as war emerges). Began to really throw their weight to keep us under the belief that there is a morally good and bad side. Their moral and just talk sends shivers down anyone's back who knows any of the details of the massacre in Rwanda. Carry on picking and choosing the wars boys. Nato's greatest weakness is that they can't stop. They never have that option. My opinion is that dictators like Milosevic would never have thought of acting so cheekily, except that he probably has a portfolio on the Iraq affair on his desk, which like a crystal ball tells him NATO's next move.
    Simon Ho, Cambridge

    Opponents to the Nato action should ask themselves: Why is Press freedom denied in Kosovo and Serbia? What have they got to hide?
    Bob Bolton

    Single European currency

    Audience question: To date, the government has only discussed whether Britain should join the euro in economic terms. When will the government start discussing the implications for democracy?

    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said: "I don't understand why there are any implications for democracy at all. We are in Europe."

    Charles Moore said: "The decision about who runs your money is an absolutely key decision for a free country. If it's un-elected bankers in foreign countries, what redress do we have?"

    Charles Kennedy said: "I am strongly in favour of EMU and this country's deepening participation in Europe, but it is crucial that the government address more openly and as soon as possible what are the undeniable political and constitutional implications. Because if they don't, the danger is that ... we will not win the referendum that we know is going to have to come."

    Michael Heseltine said: "It has to be government-led, and then we can have a debate in the referendum context and I think that's very important."

    You said:

    I'm no expert on monetary matters, but my interpretation of EMU is that we inescapably link exchange rates with our partners such that we are at the mercy of other countries' financial policies. Thus, if, say, Spain has raging inflation, exports to Spain will be cheaper, but if, say, the policies of Ireland are such that the reverse occurs, we will benefit. This may or may not benefit us is the long run, but the point is that our import and export status will no longer be in our control in any way. Is this wise?
    Bob Bolton

    The truth is, whether we want in or out of Europe's economy isn't an issue. Britain simply haven't got a choice in the matter. It is not a matter of "IF" but "WHEN". We can't join at the moment because the British economy is not up to the standard required by Europe to join. We couldn't join Europe's economic system today if we wanted to. They would refuse us anyway, on the grounds that our economy is simply not good enough as yet. To save face we are allowed to pretend to debate an issue that is already decided and in the background the financial whiz kids and bankers etc. implement the necessary adjustments that Europe will accept before we are "accepted" to join. Once that is done by shaping up the economy, then Europe will say, 'Put in your application to join us and we will accept.' Everything in Europe from a box of matches to real estate; from cars to bank interests rates are far cheaper/lower than in Britain. As soon as we are fit and allowed to join, then the British public will realise how the governments over the decades have collectively strangled progress in this country, maintaining the spoils for the fortunate few.
    John Samuels

    John Samuels is wrong about our economy being to weak to join the Euro. Everyone knows our economy is too STRONG to join the Euro, check your facts next time John.
    Steve Hanwell

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