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Question Time
Last week's panel
The latest programme came from Southampton on Wednesday, 9 April.

Mike O'Brien
Mike O'Brien is a junior foreign office minister.

He recently said on the administering of post-war Iraq: "They (the UN) will be involved in the postwar humanitarian effort, and the handover to the Iraqi interim authority. The US and the UK agree the UN will have that key role."

Mr O'Brien served as a Home Office minister throughout the 1997 Parliament on a number of portfolios including immigration and asylum.

He was tipped for further promotion, but was returned to the backbenches for a short while before his appointment as foreign office minister for the Middle East during the May 2002 reshuffle.

Some had thought that his short-lived political demise may have been connected to his part in the second downfall of Peter Mandelson - it was Mr O'Brien's insistence that he had received a call about the Hindujas' passport applications that forced the Northern Ireland secretary to resign.


David Willetts is the shadow work and pensions secretary.

He is regularly celebrated as the most intelligent MP in the Conservative party, with the admiring nickname "Two Brains".

He spent his early career as a Treasury civil servant, before joining the prime minister's policy unit under Margaret Thatcher.

He subsequently became director of research for a right-wing think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies.

He is also a prolific author on Conservative philosophy.

After his election in 1992, he enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks, but came unstuck when the Standards and Privileges Committee strongly criticised his role as a whip in the proceedings of an investigation into Neil Hamilton.

He was obliged to resign from his post as paymaster general, and did not return to the frontbench until he entered William Hague's shadow cabinet as shadow education and employment secretary.


Jenny Tonge
Jenny Tonge is the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on international development.

She is opposed to the war in Iraq, against American proposals for a National Missile Defence system and a persistent critic of the international arms trade.

In 1997 she won the re-named constituency of Richmond Park with a majority of 2,951, which increased to 4,964 in 2001.

She was one of the more high profile of the 1997 intake and was quickly promoted to the post of international development spokesman, which she retained after the 2001 election.

She is on the left of the Liberal Democrats. She supports the legalisation of cannabis and was one of the prime movers in the successful campaign to widen access to the "morning-after" contraceptive pill.

She recently announced she will stand down as an MP at the next election, to spend more time with her family.


Digby Jones
Digby Jones is director-general of the CBI business lobby group.

He says that this year the UK government has already added £5bn to employment costs through higher taxes.

Last November he faced ¿fat cat¿ accusations, when one of Britain¿s biggest trade unions, the GMB, ran a newspaper advertisement accusing him of taking a 42.5% pay increase. At the time Mr Jones had attacked striking fire fighters for their "excessive pay claim".

He threatened to sue and demanded an apology for the GMB's "lie", saying his pay had risen by just 12.8% since joining the CBI three years ago.

In December 2001 he called on the government to end "delay and prevarication" on Britain's euro stance. He said that uncertainty over euro adoption inevitably had "an impact on investment decisions".

A former solicitor he was vice-chairman of corporate finance for accountants KPMG (1998-99) before becoming director-general of the CBI in November 1999.


Mark Steel
Mark Steel is a comedian, broadcaster, author and Independent columnist.

In last week's column he wrote on the reporting of the Iraq war on TV: "The minute it's made up, you'll hear about it." He goes on to say: "So the news starts 'Oh, apparently that uprising we yelled about all through yesterday didn't happen' or 'Ah, yes, that chemical weapons factory turned out to be an all-night petrol garage'.

He has presented several BBC Radio 4 series including the Mark Steel Lecture, The Mark Steel Solution and The Mark Steel Revolution.

A stand-up comedian since the early 1980s he has also written two books including his memoir Reasons To Be Cheerful and It's Not A Runner Bean...(Dispatches from a Slightly Successful Comedian). Reasons To Be Cheerful was revived for his current solo show.

He is a veteran protester, once wrongfully arrested for stealing after innocently wandering into the 1981 Brixton riots.


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