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

November 11, Maidstone

On the panel were:

  • Andrew Smith MP, chief secretary to the treasury
  • Archie Norman MP, shadow minister for Europe
  • Jean Lambert MEP, Green party
  • Piers Morgan, editor, the Mirror newspaper
  • Gillian duCharme, headmistress, Benenden school
The topics discussed this week were:

Ex-convict soldiers?

Audience Question: Does the panel agree that ex-convicts should be recruited into the army?

Piers Morgan: It's a great idea. Do you want a culture with these overmanned prisons or to take people who've fallen out of society and put them in the army where they would instil some discipline into them. A lot of these guys are wasting their lives there. The army will make or break these guys. We've got quite a few good soldiers in the prison system and it would be a good way of getting them back.

Archie Norman: The army today have great difficult recruiting. The army should remain a volunteer army. It's effectiveness depends on morale and solidarity. Convicts would threaten that morale and teamwork. I'm worried about the effect on the average squaddie. There's a risk convicts may feel obliged to go in.

Gillian duCharme: I would think that it would be very good. In American boot camps people are knocked back into shape. My only problem is should we give them guns?

Andrew Smith: We have to distinguish between forcing convicts into the army and giving them the opportunity to go in. A lot of these young offenders lack discipline and self-esteem. The army can help them get these. It would work like an early parole system. Isn't it a good way for people to pay back their debt to society? They would have to go through a gruelling 12-week test before being trained. And it's still a pilot project.

Jean Lambert: I'm fascinated by the idea of the army as an extension of the prison system. If people want to make a free and willing choice knowing the risks then that's OK. We ought to be doing something about illiteracy, numeracy, dyslexia and the over-representation of ethnic minorities in the prison system.


Criminals in the armed forces is a bad idea. They need committed professional not people herded into something they don't want to.
Gordon Rennie, Slough

Do you think they want to serve the country as much as regulars? Maybe some would prefer it to a jail sentence, and see it as an easy way out, but may not be as dedicated as regulars.
Christopher Brind, Belper, Derbyshire

So we channel our petty convicts into the armed forces. Are we expecting a WAR?
Simon Witts, Harpenden

It is appalling that this government will consider recruiting from prisons to staff our Armed Forces, but will still not lift the ban on gay people joining up. Many gays have been forced out of their chosen careers, and will now be replaced by muggers and car thieves.
Andrew Leonard, Gloucester

I completed 12 years service and would not have liked to serve with criminals, although many colleagues were far from 'squeaky clean'. Criminals are not well liked in the forces and often sent to Coventry (or worse) if found out. It would be a further step down in our forces standards, and unfair to the professionals that volunteered to join.
Adrian Green, Metheringham, Lincoln

Forty years ago these people who may now be given the option to join the army would have already been in the army doing national service. They would have been prevented from getting into trouble in the first place. This provides the disciplined atmosphere which many young people need to develop into normal productive adults.
Anonymous, Oxford

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Fuel escalator RIP

Audience Question: Does the demise of the fuel escalator herald the end of differences in fuel prices between Britain and Europe?

Jean Lambert: The fuel escalator was there for a very specific reason. It lost its way because it wasn't going into changing opinions and investment in public transport. We don't tax aircraft fuel but we do for lorry and car fuel. We're not going to meet the 20% target nor even the EU's 12% target.

Gillian duCharme: The price of petrol in this country is very high and you're shocked when you go somewhere like the USA. I went to India where I nearly suffocated due to the pollution. We don't want to see that here. The government is not getting public transport to work.

Andrew Smith: This is not part of some European harmonisation program. Any increases in duty over the rate of inflation will be ear-marked to public transport. And there will be extra money for an integrated transport policy.

Piers Morgan: The Labour government has let down the public in relation to transport. 40 people lost their lives in the Paddington crash due to crass incompetence by the rail industry.

Archie Norman: We've campaigned for nearly two years to remove the fuel escalator. In this part of the world there is a nil investment policy. There is no money for transport or roads. This is part of a huge increase in taxation of British business.


I work in a rural area where their is no public transport and it is now costing me 5 per day to get to and from work. We know politicians are trying to price people out of their cars but it seems they want us out of work too.
D Burton

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NHS money from cigarettes?

Audience Question: The budget statement said the increased tax on cigarettes will be going to the NHS. Does the panel believe more taxes should be raised in this way.

Jean Lambert: The idea of hypothecation or ring-fencing is a good idea. But it's got to be additional money and not mean existing funds disappear.

Piers Morgan: It's a very good idea. The problem with budgets is it's all Mickey Mouse money to us. We want to know how much money is going to what.

Andrew Smith: Earmarking does make sense. It's not the answer to all the problems. A lot of less popular things have to be paid for out of general taxation.

Archie Norman: You have to watch the fine print. The danger is politicians will use it as an excuse to raise the overall tax burden. We need extra transparency. Everyone should know how much tax we pay per item on receipts as they do in the US.


With money from cigarettes does this mean that now if you're a smoker the NHS will not push smokers aside or refuse treatment? You would think so when a bulk of their input is from smokers already.
Steven Major

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Millennial waste of money?

Audience Question: Are both the millennium wheel and the millennium dome a waste of money?

Piers Morgan: The Dome hasn't been paid for by public money. We have a chance to celebrate the millennium and I say let's have a great party. Why be so cynical and churlish?

Andrew Smith: It's being paid for by private donations and the lottery. Let's celebrate this exciting and ambitious thing. We're so London-centric, there are many more millennial events around the country.

Gillian duCharme: The church has been very much a part of the celebrations. Everybody was looking at the wheel waiting for it to fall in the river. What a lot of party-poopers we are. Let's celebrate it.

Archie Norman: 430m of lottery money went on the Dome. I don't want to be a killjoy but I find it tinged with sadness that we are celebrating 2000 years of Christian history by building something that will last 25 years. We should be building a cathedral or something that can be representative of the achievements of our civilisation.

Jean Lambert: There are more interesting things in Greenwich than the Dome. We build a Ferris wheel waiting for it to go smack!


With regard to the Millennium spending is Christianity really relevant in this day and age and the multi-cultural society we live in?
David Rolston, Belfast

How can we possibly celebrate this stupid dome, when just a few miles down the road we still have the shame of our children and other homeless sleeping on the street. If these private benefactors wanted to be so generous, wouldn't it have been a far more positive and meaningful celebration to invest money in homes and lives. The millennium dome means absolutely nothing to a large number of people in this country living in poverty and without homes.
Maya Doolub, London

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Abolishing grammar schools?

Audience Question: Will the overall standard of education fall if the grammar school system is abolished where it remains, such as in Kent?

Gillian duCharme: Yes, standards will fall. Why abolish something that's really good? And why abolish it now? How is it going to work? The problem in many schools is the level of poverty in families. In an ideal world we shouldn't need grammar schools or independent schools. What about children as guinea pigs?

Archie Norman: It takes generations to build up a good school. A school is not just a set of premises but a culture that the community builds into. Tony Blair said that the grammar schools are safe under Labour. It will divide the community and be a huge diversion from teaching.

Piers Morgan: I would like to see state schools brought up to standard where it's no longer an issue. Let the people of Kent send their children where they want to send them. There is going to be huge disruption.

Andrew Smith: What's really important is raising standards for everybody. We're putting the decision in the hands of the parents. The firm evidence isn't there for keeping or abolishing them.

Jean Lambert: I went to a grammar school, taught for 20 years in East London in comprehensive schools and my children went to comprehensive schools. They were all excellent. There has been enormous change. Standards don't fall. It's appalling for the 80% of children left out of the grammar school system.


Grammar schools are all well and good for middle class children. For those predominately lower class people who fail to meet the grade then they have a future of sub-standard education and no opportunity. Everybody has the right to the best education.
Peter Matthews, Bradford

The Government have fragmented the UK by means of devolution, taxed the Queen, removed Hereditary peers from the Lords - why not entirely destroy Britain's history and heritage by abolishing the soundest Educational tradition that Britain still has to offer. Again, this is 'downwards' Socialism!
David Parr, Aylesbury

I am a student teacher in secondary education. The main thing that every teacher works towards is the good of the pupils, not the status of the school nor to better the school. The most important thing is the pupils and the grammar schools and private sector should be abolished to remove the snobbery. We have to remove the stigma of education and give back FREE education to everyone.
Ray Burns, Liverpool

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Steps towards equality

Audience Question: It's a tragedy that not enough Steps have been taken to eliminate sex discrimination?

Piers Morgan: The Steps are a pop ensemble where the two men get paid more than the three women. The whole thing is a load of hype.

Gillian duCharme: Anybody who does similar work should be paid the same for it. There's a long way to go for women's equality. I'm not paid the same as the male heads of many of the boys' public schools.

Jean Lambert: It's outrageous. It's spread through the entertainment industry and throughout the country. We have to at long last implement the equal pay act.

Archie Norman: This is of the past. It's up to employers to change the culture of work.

Andrew Smith: There should be equal pay for work of equal value.

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