Hartlepool MP and former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson put himself online yesterday to take questions from readers as part of a ground-breaking initiative.

The controversial politician launched an Internet feature called The Interview-e at The Northern Echo's website www.thisisthenortheast.co.uk

Readers will be able to e-mail questions to Mr Mandelson during this week - and then his answers will be published both in the paper and online.

Mr Mandelson said he made the decision to do this for the first time as a way of getting his voice heard.

He said: "I think that, often, the media acts as a filter between the public and politicians, and the more direct access and dialogue the better.

"For somebody who doesn't hide his opinions and likes communicating, I wanted to allow people to put questions directly to me and for me to answer them in my own way."

Editor of The Northern Echo, Peter Barron, said: "We are delighted to be able to offer our readers this chance to take their questions directly to well-known people, and who better to launch it than the MP everyone wants to interview.

"The Internet has made this sort of communication possible and I hope that, over the coming months, many more high-profile people will take this opportunity to face the public direct."

During the launch of The Interview-e at the offices of The Northern Echo yesterday, Mr Mandelson admitted that he doesn't often use e-mail himself - but mainly because letters go through his office.

"I don't use e-mail a lot. Having been a minister, you are locked into rather conventional ways of working," he said and told how he had spent months asking civil servants to arrange Internet access at his desk while Northern Ireland Secretary.

So whether you want to ask Mr Mandelson a serious question about his time in Northern Ireland or about his views on Big Brother, have your say at www.thisisthenortheast.co.uk/features/interview_e