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 20, Liverpool

Appearing on the panel last week were:

The topics discussed were:

Labour's civil war in London

Audience Question: Does Tony Blair's attack on Ken Livingstone herald the start of a Labour civil war should Ken come to power in London?

Steve Norris: I don't have to attack Ken Livingstone. I just leave Tony Blair and Frank Dobson to do it for me. This is an extraordinary nonsense and something that a control freak government jumps on. London Labour MPs have a thousand votes to the ordinary London member's one vote.

Ian McCartney: The Labour party will unite around the candidate chosen and that candidate will be Frank Dobson. We will campaign for policies for London.

John Sentamu: Any candidate who's standing in an election like that, if the party wants to fight, it's their democratic right to do so.

Jackie Ballard: There'll certainly be problems since his own party leadership has completely rubbished him. The best candidate for the mayor of London is Susan Kramer, the Lib Dem candidate.

Melanie Phillips: I wonder what we all did for entertainment before the London mayoral contest. Ken Livingstone stands for something that for a significant minority of Labour party members has been lost in the party. His great appeal of Ken is that he's going to set himself up as an opposition to the centralised authority of central government.

You said:

I am a South London born British subject who has been living in the USA for nearly twenty years. I decided to leave in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher was first elected. I swore that I would not return from my self-imposed exile until the Conservatives were thrown out of power. I little guessed that it would be eighteen years before the Labour Party would be returned to power! However, when Tony Blair was elected in the landslide of two years ago, I was also dismayed to see how far the Party had strayed from original socialist principles and objectives. The sad political situation could hardly be more illustrated by Blair's recent diatribe against Ken Livingstone and his vitriolic opposition to the latter's quest to be Major of London. My first job when I left school was to work as a clerical officer in the Studies and Research Division of the Planning Department of the Greater London Council and this job greatly helped shape my community consciousness. Thatcher correctly diagnosed the power of this force: hence her incredible action of abolishing this vital organ of the people's voice. To be treading in her footsteps and trying to emulate her in her implacable opposition to that institution's eminent ex-leader is both deplorable and dismaying.
Peter Tooth, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

Is Ian McCartney just reading prepared answers, it certainly looks like it. More of Blair's control freakery, we all know Labour MPs aren't allowed to have their own opinions, if they do they're called Ken Livingstone and Blair attacks them. And what a nerve Blair had to attack Ken for gesture politics...it was Blair and his unelected cronies who invented it.
Paul Stratton, Basingstoke

What gives McCartney the right to call London our Capital city? It's not. Our capital city is Edinburgh and the sooner people like him realise this and accept this then we can rise as a nation again and leave the people of London to themselves.
Ray Symington, Dundee

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Mo 'Marijuana' Mowlam

Audience Questions: Should smoking marijuana be made legal given Mo Mowlam's revelation that she smoked dope as a student? Do you feel that Mo Mowlam is the right person to represent the government in anti-drugs policies?

Jackie Ballard: I'm pleased there wasn't any hysteria. I don't know whether there is evidence that it will lead to harder drugs. We should have a Royal Commission to look into the whole issue.

Ian McCartney: She was frank in saying that she tried it once, didn't like it and didn't do it again. My 22-year-old son died last year from a drug-related illness. This country is facing an epidemic with young people's lives being taken over by drugs. Marijuana is used as a bridgehead into other drugs. Mo Mowlam is a very understanding person and is the best person to have in this area.

Steve Norris: She was honest enough to say she tried it. I didn't use drugs but did get completely paralytic as a student with alcohol. It's a nonsense to suggest that one of those histories is legitimate and the other is not. All the evidence is that cannabis becomes a gateway drug. You have to keep marijuana off the approved list.

John Sentamu: I don't know enough about marijuana at all. You have to address the whole question of drugs including alcohol and tobacco. I agree that there should be a Royal Commission on drugs.

Melanie Phillips: It's foolish to distinguish marijuana from other drugs. There is a large body of research to say there are enormous harms associated with marijuana. We know it is more carcinogenic than tobacco, it is more addictive than alcohol, it damages the immune system and brain.

You said:

Cannabis should be decriminalised. It is not inherently a gateway drug. There is no evidence to support this. Because Cannabis is illegal, it may bring the user into contact with other more harmful drugs - and so the 'gateway' effect is purely caused by the illegality of the substance.
Ed Kirby, Northumberland

Given that over the last few decades millions upon millions of people have smoked pot, how is it that if it really is medically more harmful than the legal drugs and really is a 'gateway' to hard drugs, why don't we see the millions of expected hard drug users and hospitalised patients?
Alex, Cambridge

Melanie Phillips' comments on the dangers of marijuana are so remote from the evidence of published research as to be malicious, and the panel's endorsement of the so-called "gateway" effect are similarly not supported by research. The evidence is that marijuana is less harmful than other prescribed drugs and has beneficial properties that render its denial for useful medical application little short of obscene. If major pharmaceutical companies can prove in a relatively short time that a drug is suitable for prescribed or unprescribed use, why is it that we are continually told that the long term effects of marijuana are insufficiently understood to justify criminalisation?
Nic Oatridge, London

The legalisation of drugs will reduce crime and save lives.
Sam Wickson, Richmond

Steve Norris was incorrect in saying there is no gateway effect with alcohol and tobacco. Research shows that young people who use these substances in early teenage years are more likely to go on to use illegal drugs too. The link seems to be to do with risk-taking behaviours and crossing certain psychological barriers.
Susan Dancer, Derby

In my opinion, if people want to take drugs, then they have to accept the consequences, whether it be death or prison, they only have themselves to blame.
Kevin Cooper, Blackpool

So Kevin Cooper, if publicly expressing your opinion were made a crime then you'd only have yourself to blame for any consequences of you doing so, or would you just accept that rule of law and never voice an opinion?
Anton, London

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NHS in crisis, taxes cut

Audience Question: Shouldn't the government have the bottle to raise taxes rather than cut them when the health service is in such crisis?

John Sentamu: The NHS should be publicly funded. Maybe we could send the government the money from the tax breaks coming in April.

Melanie Phillips: Lord Winstone was absolutely right. He referred to the experience of his own mother who was appallingly treated. The way old people are treated in hospital is to do with an attitude viewing them as an encumbrance and a statistic. It's foolish to kid ourselves that we can just throw money at it. I don't think people are going to pay a few pence more in income tax to bring it up to standard.

Steve Norris: I don't believe that high tax is better than low tax. With every other conservative I know I believe that we should have a health service free at the point of demand. As the economy expands the chancellor will have more money without having to raise taxes.

Ian McCartney: We're putting 19bn into the health service and will continue to invest in modernising the health service. You can't turn round 20 years of under-investment in two or three years.

Jackie Ballard: What people believe is what they see with their own eyes. It's not just to do with funding but funding is part of the answer. Income tax is the fairest form of tax and public services should be paid out of it.

You said:

As an intensive care nurse, it has been a challenging couple of weeks. Yes the NHS remains underfunded, but its future seems more assured under this government than it ever did under the Tories.
Dominic Egan RGN BSc, Leeds

I always regarded the NHS as the last bastion of what was good and decent in this country, and felt it would be a good indicator of the state of the country. But now, we are at a point where even this service has been eroded to such a downgraded level that it is impossible for them to cope. All we hear from the politicians time and time again is, "we must improve the efficiency of the service". But how can you achieve any more gain in efficiency when the effort needed to get that last small percentage far outweighs any real benefit to the public? It looks good on a manager's spreadsheet trying to justify his existence. I for one, now do not believe in this country, and will be looking to move with my family to a first world country because this country is not one anymore.
James Murphy, Tonbridge

With the withdrawing of tax relief on private health insurance many people have now had to leave the private sector thereby placing a greater load on the NHS. Those in work still pay their National Insurance Contributions therefore they do not deprive the NHS of finance. These people now place a greater burden on the NHS as they will now have to join the various queues! If I was waiting for a bus behind 12 other people and 6 in front of me decide to take a taxi I would be delighted to be nearer the front of the queue.
Maureen Calwell, Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Costs in the health service fall as people look after themselves better and procedures become more efficient. The problem is people like me with MS who need the new overpriced drugs, and yes I know the excuses for the prices.
John Elson, Nottingham

The financial bottom-less pit known as the health service shouldn't be give any more money. It will always require more and more money, however much we provide it with. Instead the health service should have an element of privatisation in order to introduce more efficient means of running the service. The money saved from becoming more efficient could more than pay for the improvements required to bring the UK's health service up to the standard of our European counterparts.
Lyndon Leggate, Sawbridgeworth

The whole mess has become a political football. This is a national emergency and the govt. should react it to as such. The National Health Crisis does not require a debate by these political hacks but intervention by a committee of your best doctors from each area of the country and from hospitals. No politicians, lords, dukes or royal commissions but medical professionals. Because they know the problems, understand the shortcomings and have the solutions.
Dr Jerath, Atlanta, USA

The British government better wise up to the appalling NHS because a lot of us have lived in the EC and seen how some member states treat their citizens. Mr Blair if you don't get this right out you go on the dole, then you try the true NHS service with months of waiting if one of your kids is sick.
Stephen McGarrie, Antigua

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Another undemocratic second chamber?

Audience Question: Today's Royal Commission recommended a revised second chamber with 550 appointed members. How can this lead to a more a democratic form of government?

Jackie Ballard: This report is a missed opportunity. The only way the government will listen to a second chamber is if it has the legitimacy of the ballot box.

Steve Norris: This is a classic example of Tony Blair's law of unintended consequences. He's built a Tony Crony chamber. If we were going to revise the chamber we should have been bolder.

John Sentamu: The second chamber must be effective and distinctive from the House of Commons.

Ian McCartney: This cross-party approach is the best way forward. The houses of parliament should be more inclusive.

Melanie Phillips: The reason the House of Lords has worked is because it wasn't democratic. More democracy results in a kind of stalemate. The function of the House of Lords is not just as a revising chamber. It also is a check on the executive when it goes wrong as it did today by stopping the government curbing access to jury trials.

You said:

Is the answer to the Lords PR? Will this allow Labour to deliver a commitment to the Liberals and also have a difference between the two houses? This maintains Labour in power via first past the post but allows a commitment to PR to be met whilst limiting its effect over Labour's stranglehold on the Commons.
Frank Mitchell, East Kilbride, Scotland

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Crime up, 'stop and search' down

Audience Question: In the light of recent figures indicating a rise in the rate of reported crime. Would an increase in stop and search reduce crime?

John Sentamu: The greatest rise in crime was internet fraud. Stop and search has its limitations, it's not a panacea. In the Steven Lawrence inquiry we said that the policy should be retained but the police should do it professionally.

Steve Norris: It's obviously true that as we've seen a reduction of stop and search in London and so we've seen an increase in crime.

Melanie Phillips: I don't think that it's obviously true. We all know that reported crime statistics are variable. Also the home office has changed the criteria leaving the figures particularly meaningless. There's not a link between the use of stop and search and a reduction in robbery. You have to be psychic to know who's going to commit a robbery.

Jackie Ballard: Stop and search is most effective in catching people with drugs. Since 1987 there are a thousand less police officers on the beat in this country. And that's linked to the increase in crime.

Ian McCartney: I'm in favour of stop and search but it has to be used sensitively. It has to be linked to other measures, such as CCTV.

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