April 27, Newcastle

April 13, Edinburgh

March 30, Belfast

March 23, Maidstone

March 16, Truro

March 9, Nottingham

March 2, London

February 24, Leeds

February 17, London

February 10, Birmingham

February 3, Brussels

January 27, Southampton

January 20, Liverpool

January 13, London

December 16, Leeds

December 9, Manchester

December 2, Cardiff

November 25, Birmingham

November 18, Durham

November 11, Maidstone

November 4, Glasgow

October 28, Southampton

October 21, London

October 14, Sydney

October 7, Manchester

September 30, Bournemouth

September 23, London

July 15, Belfast

July 8, London

July 1, Birmingham

October 28, Southampton

On the panel were:

The topics discussed last week were:

Anglo-French mutual hostility?

Audience Question: Is the row between the UK and France really about British beef or is it a symptom of a long-standing, mutual dislike?

Diane Abbott: We are in the right and they are in the wrong, but the way forward is diplomacy and the law. The calls for an official boycott are wrong. The more xenophobic press have missed the underlying issue of what is really going into our food nowadays. French cows eating excreta, British cows eating ground-up animals, there's a real issue of the food we're giving our children to eat. Both the prime minister and Nick Brown are batting for Britain. Nick Brown has taken a personal decision not to eat French produce. In the House of Commons William Hague and the Tories have been calling for a boycott of French products.

Boris Johnson: There's an element of tub-thumping in the media because we love this kind of row. The only way to solve this is through negotiation. The government could care an awful lot more about British beef farmers. We are partly French so we don't hate them. Where's the scientific evidence that French meat is unsafe? This is just millennial hysteria. Taking the French to the European Court of Justice will take at least three years. In the interim there are measures we could adopt including being tougher in Brussels.

Lembit Opik: It's opportunism, simply business. They saw an opportunity to get our markets when British beef wasn't allowed out and they don't want to give them back. We have to be seen to stay within the law but it's reasonable for individuals including Nick Brown to make a personal statement. We have to put pressure on the French. An awful lot of small farmers see organic farming as the way to stay alive. The supermarkets are ripping off farmers could quite easily not overcharge for organic produce giving the consumers a choice. We got into this mess by being so anti-Europe in the 1980s.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: My partner is French and I've got to be very careful what I say. We have an intense, love-hate relationship with the French. There are an enormous number of Francophiles in this country and despite the tabloids, we want to get on well with the French. As a nation we can't quite make up our minds, but they have a mystique for us. It's still legal to feed our own cattle tallow, blood and bone-meal. And because it's still legal people are doing it. We all want to be able to go into a butcher's and buy beef knowing it's been fed only on vegetable matter. Nick Brown assures us that animal feeds will be labelled for GM foods, but before that they need to be labelled for animal material as well. Labelling is the key to consumer choice.

Theresa May: This is not about hostility but a serious issue for British farmers. The government has been spineless in its action. In the BSE crisis we set in place systems to make British beef one of the safest meat products in the world. It took the government two years to get the ban lifted and now we see it's only partly lifted. The government should go to the courts because the French are acting against an EU decision that British beef can be exported. Since June the government has known that the French have been feeding their livestock with sewage sludge. Some of the government advisors have said there is a potential danger, so we need a precautionary ban. It is for individuals to decide whether or not they want to eat French products.

You said:

Asda are selling Brie cheese marked UK -EEC and then say made in France - Labelling must be more clear so we can buy British. Also they are selling breaded chicken breasts which are marked made in UK AND BRAZIL. What is made in the UK? The food or the box!! CLEARER LABELS PLEASE!
David Kendall

Why should the French eat British beef when our own government will not allow us to buy it on the bone?
Justin, Eastbourne

I was chastised on Friday for buying a bottle of French wine, by the cashier at my local Sainsbury's. I was most embarrassed but refused to get into a debate when a 1/2lb of brie had already gone through. The point is that sometimes you wonder who really holds power - the government or the tabloids who whip up this ridiculous xenophobic hysteria which can only damage us.
John Copley, Putney, London

It's about time we supported our country and our workers by buying British. British produce is one of, if not the safest produce available. The British Government is right not to ban French Imports, lets not stoop to that level. If we, the British do not wish to eat French meat or any other European meat it is our choice. The French farmers need to grow up and realise that they cannot be protected from competition any longer. Burning tyres and being disruptive will not help their cause.
Chris Sedgwick, Baldock

I have not knowingly purchased anything French since 10th July 1985 when the French government sank the Greenpeace 'Rainbow Warrior', killing one man.
Barry K. Vaughan, Doncaster

We know about the problem of feeding animals with those all ugly things for months! Why don't the British ban our products at that time? Another important thing is that these practices are ILLEGAL!! and our safety system succeeded to find it out. During the last years more British fellows have died from BSE than French cows so we have reason to be sceptical about British beef. And thanks to Hugh for putting the emphasis on the strange relations between the British and the French.
Nicolas & Claire, France

Is William Hague right to ask Tony Blair to break the law, by banning French meat.
Anthony Brown, London

Get away from the jingoism. Make sure our food is the best quality it can be. No wonder none of the home nations have reached the quarter-finals of the rugby world cup, they, like the rest of us have been brought up eating rubbish!
Steve Scott, Edinburgh

I don't think people in the U.K. realise the effect the B.S.E. scare had on the rest of Europe, people are really afraid of British beef.
Adrian Connor, Dublin

Why can British beef be sold in France, and marked as British, and French beef be sold here and marked as French. Let the consumers decide if they want the most "controlled" beef in the EU, or beef fed on sewage.
Steve Hicks, Medway

Why all this fuss? We have some appalling practices with regard to animal welfare, which is what is the root to this problem.
Karina Davies

With reference to Hugh F-W's assertion that animal feed will be GMO free. No animal feed producers are willing to state that the Soya (the major provider of vegetable protein in animal feed) in animal feed is GMO free. The government's scheme to encourage farmers to convert to organic farming ran out after a few weeks.
Martin Ainscough, Lancashire

Everyone on the Panel seems to have forgotten General De Gaulle, who, having spent the War years safely in Great Britain said.....NON! Forcefully when the U.K. first applied for membership of the then EEC.
Eileen Tucker, St. Albans

German and French protectionism exists beyond beef. British engineering companies can export engineering parts only to find that they are subjected to protracted acceptance procedures that defy belief. There is no such thing as a level playing field. Blair needs to wake up. It's more than image at stake.
Mike Major, Liverpool

All the talk is about the beef industry. What about the UK pig industry that is facing the deepest crisis in its history? Many face bankruptcy as foreign imports of cooked and raw meat are imported to the UK that are not bred to the welfare standards of the UK industry. We have written to EVERY MP FOUR times over the last year but still the public are misled by the supermarkets and our MP's don't care. Will you help? Do you care? From one of the last remaining pig farmers in the UK.
James Leavesley, Burton on Trent

The profit question aside, surely we have a moral duty to only feed herbivores their natural foodstuffs and if we do not, are we not asking for all the problems we are experiencing today?
Becky Boyce, Weymouth

The French are exceptionally good at standing up for what they feel are their rights - we have port blockades, French truckers causing problems for our truck drivers, etc. Whilst I feel that this "beef ban" is purely a stand in protest for their own farmers (in that the less British Beef they sell means the more French Beef they will sell), it is down to pure xenophobia.Stuff the French and their illegal ban on British Beef, they won't eat our beef, so we shouldn't eat theirs.
Nigel Worsley, UK

I am French and have been living in England for more than a year now. I'm particularly fascinated by this debate, and I totally agree that the relation between our countries is a question of love and hate. We think we are far from each other, but we are not. We all live the same way, eat the same, work the same way, but we don't realise it. On the question of this beef ban, I think English don't realise that we want exactly the same thing: a safe and controlled food chain which ensures quality and security for all of us. We both have the same opinion on GM products, hormones or BSE. To solve this crisis, we simply need to look at the facts and scientifically decide whether it's acceptable or not for all of us. We have to react as brothers, not enemies.
Ludovic, Poole

I am concerned that British abattoirs are disposing of blood and guts from slaughtered bovines, pigs and sheep where these could possibly be infected with diseases communicable to humans. The method of disposal is to spread it onto crops. There is still evidence of farmers feeding mammalian protein to livestock even though this should have been prohibited by the Animal By-Products Order 1999. Not all farmers are keeping proper records in accordance to the various Regulations. They are administering unauthorised antibiotics to their livestock without keeping proper records for their withdrawal period before the animals have been slaughtered. The Meat Hygiene Service are turning a blind eye to what are going on at our slaughterhouses. There needs to be a truly independent body to investigate this.
Anonymous, UK

I think that it is about time that the government grew up. Farming has been a way of life for a long time and the government is doing its best to kill it. We have the safest meat in the world and we comply with the law. We should boycott French Beef as it is not as safe as ours and the government should not be such wimps.
Melanie Cook, Barnstaple

It's all a masterpiece of manipulation and supermarkets have their share of it. They have been recently blamed to be 20-30% more expensive than their European counterparts. Since they play the protector of the British interest. In fact they are afraid of a single currency which will not even make shopping in Calais easier but also comparison possible. It's a well organise plot.
Zufferey Marc-Olivier, London

German and French protectionism exists beyond beef. British engineering companies can export engineering parts only to find that they are subjected to protracted acceptance procedures that defy belief. There is no such thing as a level playing field. Blair needs to wake up. It's more than image at stake!
Mike Major, Liverpool

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Buying human eggs in cyberspace

Audience Question: Is it wrong for models to be selling their eggs over the internet or is it simply a matter of personal choice?

Theresa May: I have a real concern about being able to buy a designer child. It's all about what the adults want rather than the child.

Lembit Opik: It's a bit like battery farming of human beings. It'll be difficult to ban. This implies that looks and beauty are key criteria about kids. You begin to create a designer society. I may be an idealist thinking that loving relationships are important. It's really beyond me that people will think their kids will have a blessed life. We're not valuing the whole individual. What happens to people with disabilities and gifted individuals such as Stephen Hawking?

Boris Johnson: There's an obvious fallacy in the selling point to begin with. It's the creepy consequence of something well in train, it's already possible for women to choose sperm from sperm banks. The fact that it's being done over the internet represents the creepification of something already pretty creepy. This model may look perfect but who knows what her antecedents looked like. It won't work. God moves in mysterious ways. The richest may not be the fittest.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: There's huge heartache with people who can't have children. And if it's eggs or sperm they need, you can't have a random lottery. People tend to want to choose people who are vaguely close physionomically to themselves.

Diane Abbott: Society is increasingly intolerant of any physical imperfection. People should be protected from their foolishness and desperation so it must be regulated through international co-operation.

You said:

The alleged cost of the so-called model eggs will defeat the project: 90,000 each.
Neil Jones, Boston

If virtually everything from sperm to skills, etc. are on the market is it not unfair to prevent women from selling their eggs given safe regulation.
Jed Young, Hatfield

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Abolishing hereditary peerage

Audience Question: Is the government doing the country a favour by abolishing hereditary peers or are they, as Lord Strathclyde believes, scoring a giant gash across the face of history?

Lembit Opik: It's right because it's an issue of democracy. I wouldn't abolish the monarchy but the hereditary peerage is an anachronism. As Tony Benn said, you wouldn't feel very comfortable if the pilot of your aircraft had never flown but his dad had been an excellent pilot in the RAF. We need a debate about the relationship between the upper and lower house. The appointment system would be an improvement on the hereditary peerage system.

Diane Abbott: If anyone has ever wandered into the House of Lords they'd know that the government is doing the world a big favour by abolishing the hereditary peerage. The second chamber is made up of people who bought their peerage, had sex with a member of the royal family or the other criteria by which you become a member of the landed gentry. It's a long overdue reform. They are not exactly amongst the best and brightest of international legislators. I'm not keen on a wholly appointed second chamber. I would prefer an elected chamber on the model of the US Senate.

Boris Johnson: The hereditary peers are not going to be abolished. What is being taken away is their right to vote in the upper house. It's not impossible for hereditary genius to be passed on. Look at the Dimbleby dynasty. Labour are getting rid of the upper house without the faintest idea of what to put in its place.

Theresa May: A lot of experience is going to be lost. We've accepted the principle of reforming the House of Lords. We were not looking at reforming the Lords when we were in government.. You have to determine what the powers are going to be. Whether it should be a part-elected and part-appointed house. Is it going to be the revising chamber it's always been? Is it going to have extra powers of scrutiny? And what will those powers be?

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: A second chamber needs to steer clear of party alignment and bullying. We would have a gameshow called Who wants to be in the House of Lords. But nobody should be able to phone a friend in the House of Commons. They had to go, they were antiquated, and not tolerated by the public.

You said:

Heredity peers have been abolished, as they are an unelected body. We are now being run by another unelected body, the European commission.
R Carter, Hornchurch

The House of Lords could be replaced by the same number of people chosen by random selection from the population. That is to say similar to a Jury system. Such people would be given free accommodation and payments similar to payments allowed to the peerage attending or otherwise. Would the result not be as good - if not better - saying a random sample of people like/don't like the proposed legislation. I assume staff to support reports on redrafting would be available. The group would serve for a month. If necessary hi-tech video conferencing and Internet use could be involved to allow people to participate if they were unable to actually sit in the Chamber, but be paid as if they were.
Greg Gregory, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Gay couples as parents

Audience Question: Does the panel think the decision to allow gay couples joint parenthood has put the final nail in the coffin of the anachronistic institution of marriage?

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: This is not about marriage but about the rights of gay people. If they can provide a stable home, why should we prevent this?

Boris Johnson: I don't think they should be impeded if they can show that they're going to be good parents. I don't know if it works out. I'm vaguely uneasy about it but I think marriage is not going to be threatened. Why are we so couplist? Why not three or four men?

Lembit Opik: It's about time we stopped being scared about gay people and stopped giving gay people in their teens the uncertainty by being told that their natural feeling is wrong. It's not an end to marriage, whether its two men, or a man and a woman, it should be about love.

Theresa May: I have some unease about this situation. We need to think about what's happening to the structures of society.

Diane Abbott: Families come in all shapes or size. Gay couples have always brought up children. There's a famous couple Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West. He was gay and she was a lesbian and they brought up perfectly balanced and happy children. Marriage is perennially popular.

You said:

On the subject of the two gay men and the child, it was explained that the couple were unable to convince a UK panel that they were able to provide an adequately stable and loving home. Should this procedure not apply to normal man/woman relationships as well?
Christopher Hewis, Grimsby

I can't help but wonder what is happening to society when 2 gay men can have a child? I have no doubt in my mind that it is possible for homosexual people to provide a loving home for a child, but there is something morally wrong in this. God made us male and female so that the two could come together to procreate. Who are we to question God who made us along with everything else in existence?
John Rea, Belfast

Does the decision to allow gay couples to have a child mean a end of marriages? Perhaps if gay couples were allowed to marry and given the same rights as heterosexual couples you might see an increase in marriages not the reverse.
Sally Wyatt, Bristol

No-one, other than a lady in the audience addressed the issue of the children. The panel only seemed concerned with the rights of the adults. Whether they are gay or whether they are different coloured - to me that is not an issue - but to the child it may well prove to be, and that can not be right. The rights of the child have to be paramount. Would any of the panel like to tell their school-mates that they have two fathers and no mother - why should they have to?
Norman H. Bulwer, UK

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