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Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 11:26 UK

This week's panel

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, was in Bristol on Thursday 17 April.

The panel included the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman, the chairman of the Conservative Party Caroline Spelman, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on housing Lembit Opik, the author and columnist for The Mirror Tony Parsons and the right-wing commentator Simon Heffer.


Harriet Harman MP

Career: Harriet Harman is the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, as well as being Leader of the House of Commons and Labour Party Chair.

After qualifying as a solicitor, she worked as a legal advisor to strike committees and tenants groups, before becoming the legal officer for Liberty (then called the National Council for Civil Liberties).

She entered politics with her election to parliament in 1982 and was first appointed to the Labour front bench by Neil Kinnock in 1984.

A close ally of the Prime Minister, working under Gordon Brown at the Treasury in the years before Labour came to power, she beat five of her colleagues in a close-run deputy leadership race in June 2007.

Earlier this month she stood in for Gordon Brown at Prime Minister's Questions, where she was forced to defend pictures of her wearing a stab-proof vest on a tour of her Peckham constituency.

She had previously downplayed press criticism of the decision and denied it was linked to concerns about street crime, saying: "It was just a courtesy, there was no security issue whatsoever, it was almost like wearing the kit when you go out with the team."


Caroline Spelman MP

Career: Caroline Spelman is the chairman of the Conservative Party.

Following a career as an agricultural consultant, she was elected to parliament in 1997 as the MP for Meriden in the Midlands, and was promoted to Iain Duncan Smith's shadow cabinet in 2001 as shadow international development secretary.

She has also served as shadow environment secretary and the party's spokesperson for women.

Last week she broke with official Conservative Party policy to call for the parents of child offenders to be forced to do community service alongside their offspring, saying: "This could be the very thing that brings it home to the parents; no parent would relish picking up litter with their children. It's perfectly justifiable, until a child is an adult, for a parent to take on some of the shared responsibility. It will ultimately help to strengthen the family."


Lembit Opik MP

Career: Lembit Opik is the Liberal Democrat spokesman on housing, having previously held a number of other top level posts including spokesman on business, enterprise and regulatory reform, and spokesman on Wales.

Born in Northern Ireland to Estonian parents, he entered parliament in 1997, immediately becoming the party's spokesman on Northern Ireland and young people.

Shortly after that, he survived a near-fatal para-gliding accident and has since been a vocal supporter of the Spinal Injuries Association.

Once described in the Guardian as "an exotic, soft-spoken, political gypsy," his private life, including his relationship with pop singer Gabriela Irimia, has been the subject of much press coverage. This week he received support from members of his party over the publication of a tell-all book by his former girlfriend, TV weathergirl Sian Lloyd.


Tony Parsons

Career: Tony Parsons is an author and outspoken columnist for The Mirror.

He began his career as a music journalist on the NME, where he met and married the journalist Julie Burchill, whom he subsequently divorced.

He is best known as a novelist and his most famous book, Man and Boy, won the 2001 British Book of the Year award and was dramatised for television.

As well as writing for a number of newspapers and magazines, he has been a regular contributor to radio and TV programmes such as The Late Show, Newsnight Review and Have I Got News for You.

He has long been a supporter of the government's anti-terror measures and in November 2005 made a controversial film for the BBC's This Week programme, arguing in support of plans to detain terror suspects without charge for 90 days.


Simon Heffer

Career: Simon Heffer is one of the UK's leading right-wing commentators.

He is a regular columnist for - and associate editor of - the Telegraph, having previously been the chief political columnist at the Daily Mail from 1995 to 2005.

Regarded as a bastion of the British right wing, he has written in support of the death penalty and against government intervention in the economy, including the national minimum wage.

Earlier this month he was one of the most outspoken critics of pictures of Harriet Harman wearing a stab vest in her constituency.

He wrote: "Labour has succeeded in taking us back to the 18th Century. We are again in the days when brigands and footpads, many of them out of their minds on gin and other mind-altering substances, toured the streets of our cities and preyed on innocent victims with barely a note of interference from the authorities."

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