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


January 13, London

On the panel were:

  • Alistair Darling MP, Social Security Secretary
  • Sir Malcolm Rifkind, President of the Scottish Conservatives
  • Rosie Boycott, editor of the Express newspaper
  • Andrew Roberts, historian and columnist
  • Heather Rabbatts, chief executive of Lambeth Council

The topics discussed this week were:

Pinochet and justice

Audience Question: Was Jack Straw's decision not to extradite General Pinochet a travesty of justice or his only viable option?

Andrew Roberts: It was a form of judicial kidnap.

Heather Rabbatts: No statesman is above the judicial process. He has some very serious crimes to answer for. It's right we went through with it and we now have to accept the decision.

Rosie Boycott: Everyone has got off the hook for this. It would have been a good idea to publish his medical report so that we could all see.

Malcolm Rifkind: The proper people to try Pinochet are the people of Chile. When the country where they committed the crimes is a democracy then that's the best place to convict him. The whole thing shows the extreme incompetence on the part of the Home Secretary.

Alistair Darling: Jack Straw has at all times upheld the judicial process. When General Pinochet came to the UK we had an application for extradition and we had to deal with it.

Your comments:

How is it that we can allow a man into the country who has murdered and tortured people in his country? General Pinochet was welcomed with open arms and now walks free because he is ill. What about the people's relatives who have been killed? Is it ok for them to suffer? And then we allow Tyson over here and we have a fuss kicked up. It seems to me that the British public seem to think that a rapist is more hassle then a murderer.
Daz, UK

I believe Jack Straw should be neither praised nor condemned for taking/not taking the decisions over Pinochet/Tyson on either Judicial/economic grounds. The issue for me is that the debate presupposes the right of intellectual rather than intelligent debate to decide on such highly emotive issues without first stimulating and listening to the emotional responses of the nation. I do not believe that the messages sent out to the world stage represents the feelings of the electorate of this country.
Bill Chamberlain, Leighton Buzzard

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Flu epidemic or NHS underfunding?

Audience Question: Does the panel agree with the BMA chair who says the term epidemic is being used to disguise the underfunding of the NHS in Britain?

Malcolm Rifkind: The government has been inefficient in handling this problem. The crisis within the NHS has become worse under this government.

Rosie Boycott: It is partly an excuse but we get what we pay for. We spend less per head of the population than Germany or France.

Andrew Roberts: This government has taken tax relief off private health insurance for the over-60s which has put about a million people back onto the NHS. The press and government would like there to be an epidemic.

Alistair Darling: The NHS is having to cope with a very serious problem. There are capacity problems which we are dealing with. We are turning the situation around. The private sector does not have intensive care beds on anything like the scale that the NHS has. A two-tier health system won't work.

Heather Rabbatts: The service has coped incredibly. People up and down the country have worked extremely hard. The big questions are can we get the investment right and can we modernise it?

Your comments:

When will issues such as the NHS and its running stop being a party ping-pong ball and start being the absolute responsibility of politicians in unity. Are they in power to improve the country for us all or are they so obsessed with spin that they actually believe it themselves?
Carey Lenehan, Olympia, Washington, USA

The pressure on NHS hospitals has been exacerbated because people do not have access to their doctors - appointments generally mean a 3-day wait. Most flu victims don't need hospital beds - all they need is the comfort of medical advice. In major cities, instant medical advice is not available unless you're prepared to wait 3 days - the only solution, from the patient's point of view, is to go to the A&E at the local hospital. The hospital is then stuck with the problem. What do they do? Send them home and hope there are no future complications? Their only option is to keep them in for "observation".
Maureen O'Brien, Ilford

As a hospital doctor my recent experience reveals that the gap between resources and demand continues to increase. I had hoped for better from a Labour government, but of course, we do not have a Labour government. What we have is a New Labour government. The effective NHS monopoly on junior doctor posts means they are paid only 50% of their standard hourly for overtime and many are required to work 32 hours overtime per week over and above a basic 40 hour week. The reason the government does this is to get the best value for each tax pound spent in healthcare. If this is seen to be an unconscionable exploitation of a monopoly position then the moral responsibility rests with government. If not, then the government is getting the taxpayer a good deal.
Raj Mohindra, London

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Dome detractors

Audience Question: With 80% of visitors saying they enjoyed their visit to the Dome, isn't it time the media stopped critiscising it?

Rosie Boycott: The problem is not with people's enjoyment. This thing was over-hyped from the beginning. People are saying "that was good" but not "that was one of the best experiences of my life". It seemed to me very over-commercialised and politically correct. It didn't lift me up. We're not all cynical and miserable.

Alistair Darling: I've not been to it but we are going to go. If 8 out of 10 people like something it can't be all that bad.

Heather Rabbatts: I was there on New Year's eve. It's a lot of money for a very large tent. It was important to celebrate the New Year. I prefer the wheel because it's in Lambeth.

Andrew Roberts: I don't see the Dome as a British achievement. It was designed and created for working and lower middle-class people. It would irritate and depress me as a historian. It seems to me staggeringly common and vulgar. I wouldn't try to go to something that merges Disneyworld and a museum unsuccessfully.

Malcolm Rifkind: There's the building and there's what's in the building. What's in the Dome will change from month to month. The fact that it cost three-quarters of a billion pounds makes me extremely angry.

Your comments:

Britain spent the vast majority of its money and time on a private party for the ruling classes that totally excluded the common man and that the events for the public were pitifully lame compared to the global standards set that night.
Darren Lewis, Southampton

I give the dome six months to leak and three years to collapse.
Anon

Would the panel not agree that although the dome is the right colour, it is entirely the wrong shape? Wouldn't something more elephantine be more appropriate? The 750M might have been well spent after all if the dome becomes a reminder to future generations not to spend large sums of money without good reason.
Gordon Lewis, Reading

I have no problem with the Dome being situated at Greenwich, I feel it has great significance and look forward to visiting it. I do have a problem with your offensive guest Andrew Roberts, I hope you never invite him again, I have no wish to listen to his pompous comments.
Pauline O'Brien, Prestonpans, East Lothian, Scotland

What a refreshing change to hear someone speak their mind - Andrew Roberts flew in the face of political correctness and expressed the view that the whole concept is vulgar. Mr Rifkind's assertion that past generations have provided us with such landmarks as St Paul's of which we can be proud is entirely valid as was his submission that the same pride cannot be instilled by a large tent costing 750m which though technically brilliant has no aesthetic value. Surely the dome is symbolic of the present government's obsession with modernisation at the expense of the past that gives the country its identity? Traditional values are not a sin. They are the bedrock of stability and are something to be proud of. The Dome does nothing to reflect this and it is therefore a small mercy that it is not a permanent structure. Will our futures be judged only by that which is dispensable, even our past ? How sad.
Andrew Briggs, Stadhampton

How many intensive care beds would 750m buy? Does Alistair Darling not think that the cost of the 'Dome' is extravagant when the health service is failing the very people who pay for it?
Martin Eaton, Reading

Why can't these know-all journalists promote a British achievement for once in their life?
Thomas Burton, Ipswich

I went to the Dome on 8th Jan. and I thought it was wonderful; I only saw half of the zones and can't wait to go back. My only suggestion would be to provide a 2-day pass so that you could see everything at a reasonable pace. I loved the self-portrait zone because it felt good to be British and proud of it, something we are generally not good at. The media have a lot to answer for and they must hate the Dome for that alone.
Christine Theophilus, London

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Making an exception for Tyson

Audience Question: What does the panel think about Mike Tyson's visit given that he's a convicted rapist.

Alistair Darling: Normally someone convicted of a jailable offence isn't allowed in. 20,000 people had bought tickets and a lot of businesses in Manchester would have suffered.

Heather Rabbatts: It's regrettable that it was left so late in the day. It's enormously difficult not to let him fight. It's a very sad case, he used to be a great fighter and I hope he loses.

Malcolm Rifkind: When it suits them they say the law must treat people exactly. But suddenly what was unacceptable this morning is now unavoidable. The Home Secretary and this government hides behind the rules when it suits them and breaks them when it suits them.

Rosie Boycott: It was unbelievable that you've let this man in. What kind of example does this set? And all for a bunch of Manchester businessmen but mostly Frank Warren who's set to make a few million quid on this.

Your comments:

It is a bit rich coming from the right side of the house to have a go at Jack Straw for allowing Tyson's entry when Mrs Thatcher can invite a man with the record of Pinochet to breakfast.
Michael Reilly, Hitchin

Surely the decision to allow Mike Tyson in should be based on common sense. The purpose of rejecting entry for convicted rapists is to prevent the potential for them re-offending on British soil. However, Tyson will no doubt be under the media spotlight every minute of the day, so the chances of him committing illegal acts will be very slim.
Ales Cheung, Coventry

By having executive decisions I only hope that the doors to backhanders don't open too widely. Politicians are only human and bribes have been taken in the past, are we sure that they aren't now?
Neon, Birmingham

Can't we make his visit unpleasant? Can't we ensure he is not given airtime to boast how the public in Britain love him? Maybe even kept under house arrest to ensure he doesn't commit any crimes whilst he is here, where we just allow him in for the fight and boot him out as soon as the fight is over!
Deb Woodhall-James, York

The fight was planned a long time ago and the law is not new. So why did this not come to light and why wasn't the fight cancelled more than four days before his arrival?
Tim Pearce, Kingston

The reason Tyson was let in was due to money which is more important than the image we are portraying to the young. We have got into the habit of excusing sports stars of their crimes. If Tyson was unknown then he wouldn't have got in. Because he is a star his crimes have been excused. It appears the more of a record you get the more publicity you get. This puts out the message that it is alright to commit crime if you are famous.
Daniel Francis, London

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Gays in the military

Audience Question: As a gay ex-serviceman I'm against the lifting of the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces. Does the panel agree?

Andrew Roberts: There have been superb gay soldiers throughout history. Political correctness and social engineering shouldn't be extended to a service where people are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Rosie Boycott: It's a very difficult situation to be illegal in your job.

Malcolm Rifkind: The change is probably inevitable but I'm very worried by it. We'll now have to try to make it work. I'm concerned that it will do damage to morale in the short-term.

Heather Rabbatts: Women also used to be excluded from the armed forces for the same reasons. We need an army that reflects our society.

Alistair Darling: In this day and age people have to be open and I don't see what difference it makes.

Your comments:

The only outcome of this ruling is that homosexuals will now be targeted by the heterosexual members of the forces more so than they have in the past. There is no way that these people will be able to practice their sexuality within the military environment. It will only cause domestic problems within the units, which will in turn affect the moral of our fighting forces.
Martin, Kent

If our armed forces are to properly protect and serve the United Kingdom, they must be open to being a representative part of our society. The argument Malcolm Rifkind put forward, that the vast majority of service people do not want gays and lesbians to serve alongside them is of no consequence in our modern society. Similar surveys to the one he quoted from have shown that service members are overwhelmingly opposed to serving alongside members of ethnic minorities and women. We do not just accept the point of view of these bigoted soldiers, sailors and airmen, we force them to change. In these cases, the introduction of laws to ensure that the minorities are treated equally is only the start: we must have consistent and wide-ranging education of the servicemen and women to show them that prejudice against any member of the society they are sworn to protect is not acceptable in the new century.
Tony Lord, Wadham College, Oxford

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Manchester United's let-down

Audience Question: Does the panel feel that Manchester United's performance in Brazil has improved England's chances of hosting the world cup?

Rosie Boycott: I would say thumbs down.

Alistair Darling: It's good that British clubs should play abroad but I don't know.

Malcolm Rifkind: The whole world saw some pretty poor behaviour.

Andrew Roberts: I'm afraid I don't know anything about this.

Heather Rabbatts: As an Arsenal supporter I was grateful they lost for once.

Your comments:

I am staggered at the misuse of my license money. 6MILLION to watch an English team embarrass the nation.
Daley Crew

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